Friday, January 9, 2009

New Year, Same Old Bullsh*t

You know what's weird about fashion? Too many things to mention in this space but one thing pops up over and over again and it never ceases to piss me off.

Fashion has a grotesque infatuation with racist colonial imagery. The same industry that touts itself as celebrating creativity above all other things and being accepting of all people regardless of race or sexual orientation simply cannot help but get a hard on when they dream up scenarios which put Westerners (usually lithe white models) smack dab in the middle of exotic locals surrounded by dark skinned breathing props.

I always wonder just how much of the impulse to use people as props is due to racist fears. Aren't most white people conditioned to be leery of dark faces? Grab that LV bag a little closer when one gets in the elevator with you and keep that rape whistle handy, right? But somehow, in the fashion universe, a white woman can keep her designer handbag gaping wide open, surrounded by those people without fear, just like in the good old colonial days when they knew their place.

The President of the United States may be half-Kenyan but when noted fashion photographers go to Africa to scout locations, they generally don't see the people walking around them as future political leaders. Mostly, they just pick out the most "native" looking ones as background images the same way Kmart used to have those pull down backdrops when I was a kid. We never vacationed when I was a kid but I still have photos of myself in front of the "winter" backdrop that made it look like we had a winter home in Tahoe.

Steven Lyon is the latest in a long line of fashion photographers to dip into the colonial chic well, except this time, he kicked it up a notch by leaving the garments back at the hotel, covering naked model Lara Stone in mud and snapping photos of her like she was at home visiting family.

The result is more heinous colonialist trash. All the "romance" and "adventure" is here. The model, a photographer and team of stylists arrive in a Namibia, rent a jeep and roll up on the first tribe they find. We all know that native have nothing better to do than sitting around and pose with models.

But is she really blending in? Or is she the centerpiece? Do the women around her serve any other purpose than making Ms. Stone stand out? Every expressionless prop woman in the photo is covered in the same red ocre mud but yet somehow the model is more covered, her breast more naked and sexualized, her body more desirable. She's just somehow better at being a "native."

Fashion just sucks. For every bit of progress I see in this industry, there's an even larger set back. It's exhausting just thinking about it sometimes. It's just sad to me that for a black female model, the easy route to get noticed by fashion photographer and end up in a magazine is to go to some remote part of Africa, take off her clothes and sit under a tree. They will "discover" her quicker than Ford Models can find a black girl at an open call casting session.

I'm done. Thank you Chatoyya for the heads up.

Photographer's Myspace & website


Ebony Intuition said...

OMG, those pictures are gross.

Anonymous said...

Those pictures are truly disgusting but I can't say that I am surprised by the fashion industry's blatant racism. Whatever amount of progress that people of color have made in that industry, white people are still dominant and continue to control every aspect from runway to print. Even the Asian editions of Vogue are filled with white models. It is just a continuing example of the many ways in which white privilege breeds ignorance and insensitivity. Although, I'm sure that model and photographer in particular thought they were being respectful and were celebrating the culture. I can see them saying "Well, there are black people in it and they didn't have a problem with the shoot." I am so fed up with this nonsense and it really isn't any wonder why this blog is now my main source for anything that goes on in fashion.

model liberation said...

Thanks for posting this. My stomach started hurting as soon as the slide show popped up. Fashion colonialism sickens me. Why do fashion magazines continue to think that shooting white people in Africa is a strong artistic statement? And your last paragraph is so bitterly true, it's disturbing. I'm glad you're keeping it real.

Ondo Lady said...

These are disgusting images and done in very bad taste. How can anyone think that images like these would be ok in anyway?

ninety9 said...

I'm sure there are plenty of people who think these pictures are ok. I however, am not one of them. I hope more people (regardless of color) will see that these images are just plain stupid. I wonder how long it will take for fashion editors to get it?

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...


epic fail.

Anonymous said...

So the question is, what are you going to do about it?
Different year, same complaints.
We can elect our first African-American president but can't send a message to editors about these disturbing images? If these images truly "make your stomach hurt" why do you continue to buy magazines from the very same publishers who publish these images. Why buy products that advertise in these magazines that support these images? Come on ladies! Why are you waiting for "fashion editors to get it"? They will "get it" when you "give it" to them where it hurts.

I do like this blog but it's time to stop complaining and start taking action.

Brigitte said...

@So the question is, what are you going to do about it?

Write about it on my blog. Let other people know about it.

I would absolutely send a letter to the editor but unfortunately, I don't know what magazine these photos appeared in or I would have printed it.

I guess you would prefer that no one talk about it at all?

Anonymous said...

I'm confused, Brigitte. You cited the photographer and the model, but you don't know what magazine this is from? Then how sure are you of this shoot's timing? The idea would still be disgusting, but if this happened a year ago, the argument about new perspectives with Obama in office can't apply. I want to know exactly who should receive a complaint. said...

Hello there!

I believe that the entire concept of the photo shoot was racist.

I agree with Bastille that we need to thoroughly investigate who is behind this and make that information widely known.

It's not enough to just let people know what has happened...we must outline concrete actions.

Too often, I visit blogs and it's just another round of..."look at this...aren't we offended...aren't we outraged" and the dialogue NEVER EVER advances beyond that emotionalism.

Awareness of the problem is important but ACTION STEPS are imperative.

Thanks though, for raising awareness.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Brigitte said...


The photos are recent and they are on the website of the photographer. I've added a link to his Myspace and web page for anyone who wants to contact him personally. His contact email is: Please feel free to share any responses you get here.

Anonymous said...


Thank you and Amen.
I think that the issues that the author of this blog raises are very dear to her heart. Perhaps in a way to get away from the "emotionalism" (great description btw) perhaps this blog could be even more formidable by being a place where action is taken, where people are rallied and encouraged to take action instead of just pointing a finger? Things that disturb us only disturb in as much as we LET them. I remember many years ago Jean Paul Gauthier sent his models down the runway dressed like Hasidic Jews. The Jewish community swooped down on Jean Paul with the quickness and let it be known to the world that they were not having it. That was the first and last time J.P. toyed with them.

This Time Now

Brigitte said...

@perhaps this blog could be even more formidable by being a place where action is taken, where people are rallied and encouraged to take action instead of just pointing a finger?

I really appreciate your input and passion about the topic. This blog is a place for me to bring up things that I personally love and hate about the fashion industry and to read what other people think. I have no plans to change the focus of it but should you decide to start a more "action" oriented blog, I would definitely add it to my blog roll and support you.

Sugabelly said...

Did anybody notice the cute title: Lara in Africa?

As far as these magazines are concerned, the countries in Africa aren't even worthy of being named and acknowledged. Afterall it's all the same dirty, dark, poverty stricken Africa with black people running wild everywhere. To them we should be bloody grateful the word 'Africa' sounds so nice with all the cute titles they come up with.

*sigh* I give up. It's my continent and my country and I'm taking it back dammit. From now on if there has to be a safari shot it had better damn well be a BLACK AFRICAN looking sexy in the centrespread.

Anonymous said...

I'm not "passionate" about this subject whatsoever, I thought that you were. I do like your blog, the things that you wrute about and enlighten us about. This is your blog, thus your creation. When and if you ever decide to curb or stop these kinds of images, I'll be the first to sign a petition or help in any other way that I can. I'm sure that I'm not alone in this.

This Time Now

Brigitte said...

Personally, I don't believe online petitions are very effective when it comes to this issue. I write letters to editors and advertisers to let them know how I feel often. I've also left many a subscription unrenewed. I also know that many people who read this blog do them same because they've commented or emailed me. If you feel offended by images then I encourage you to do so too. You may not believe that is enough but I feel comfortable that between that and writing this blog that I'm doing something.

Ogegevivkie said...

Nothing irks me more than the title "Lara in Africa". What is Africa? is it one country with one language and one culture? ignorance like this in the 21st century should be a crime punishable under law. Especially with the invention of the internet.

Why didn't they take pictures of the airport they had to pass through in "Africa"? or did the plane just drop off from the sky? why didn't they take pictures of Windhoek (Capital city of Namibia)? why didn't they take pictures of the luxurious hotels they were living in? why didn't they take pictures of the fancy "African" cars they used?

and to Steven Lyon, "blackface" went out of style decades ago, even before you were born. For some strange reason, you didn't get the memo.

Brigette, thanks for bringing these stories to light.

jaye said...

Disturbing is the best description of these photographs. Especially the last photo of the Caucasian man I assume is the photographer? The look on his face just sums up for me what it must be like to live inside these people's heads, that they could even conceive of the ideas for these pictures to begin with. What kind of people even think up these things? Beyond f-ed up.

Kasey said...

Umm this is a shame....seriously you can place it in any type of "artistic" light you want this is black face plain and simple. Truly unacceptable!

Patricia Grannum said...

these pics make my blood boil. hate them and what they represent