Vanity Fair Hires Its First Black Photographer For Viola Davis Cover – “I Knew This Was A Moment To Be, Like, Extra Black.”

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Viola Davis

According to the New York Times Viola Davis, told her interviewer, Sonia Saraiya, that Black women haven’t traditionally been photographed for the cover of Vanity Fair, let alone using a black photographer.

Radhika Jones wrote in her July-August editor’s letter: In the 35 years before she was named editor, Vanity Fair published 17 solo covers featuring Black people. As of Tuesday, Ms. Jones has published eight since she took over two and a half years ago, along with two featuring interracial married couples.

Yet this accomplishment exists within a broader, more distressing reality: According to several employees who have shared their experiences in recent weeks, some magazines at Condé Nast, the publisher of Vanity Fair, are racist workplaces.

viola DavisIn June, The New York Times reported that Ms. Jones’s covers were criticized internally by a white female executive for not featuring “more people who look like us.” (Through a Condé Nast spokesman, the executive denied making the assertion.)

Mr. Calmese may not have realized he was the magazine’s first Black photographer when he got the assignment, and he spoke glowingly of his interactions with Vanity Fair staff. But he did not shy away from the heat of the moment, in media and in fashion.

Viola Davis

“I did know that this was a moment to say something,” he said in an interview the week before the cover’s release. “I knew this was a moment to be, like, extra Black.”

Via CNN
Davis, 55, is best known for her role in “Fences,” for which she won the 2017 Academy Award for best-supporting actress. She is also set to play former first lady Michelle Obama in one-hour drama “First Ladies.”

In the accompanying Vanity Fair article, Davis talks about her upbringing in poverty and life in Hollywood, as well as participating in the recent wave of protests following the death of George Floyd.

Viola Davis

“My entire life has been a protest,” Davis says. “My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest. It is a part of my voice, just like introducing myself to you and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Viola Davis.'”

Vanity Fair editor in chief Radhika Jones used her editor’s letter to talk about the magazine’s role in contemporary culture. “Our mission at Vanity Fair is to capture the zeitgeist. That includes defining the new creative class, an ongoing project of rebuilding,” she wrote.

She also shared that Calmese described the idea behind the cover as “a re-creation of the Louis Agassiz slave portraits taken in the 1800s — the back, the welts. This image reclaims that narrative, transmuting the white gaze on Black suffering into the Black gaze of grace, elegance, and beauty.”

The Viola Davis Cover

Then, in mid-June, Mr. Calmese got the call to photograph Ms. Davis for the cover. He wanted Ms. Davis to look incredible because, he said, she deserved to look incredible. But he also saw the assignment as an opportunity to subvert the magazine cover — a “banal industry standard,” he said — to imbue it with the same current that ran through his runway shows with Mr. Jean-Raymond.

“It’s about replacing the images that have been washing over all of us for centuries, telling us who we are and our position in the world and our value,” Mr. Calmese said. From the time he got the assignment, Mr. Calmese recalled, he had about nine days to prepare. At the time, the cover was still meant to be summery. He was imagining Ms. Davis as the Black Athena, representing survival and justice, or the Black Madonna representing the transformation of one’s internal darkness into light.

There were daily conference calls with the magazine, and at one point he decided to write a 500-word essay, or a treatise as he called it, “to define what should be and what shouldn’t be.”

“I read it to everybody in the Zoom, like 10 people,” Mr. Calmese said, laughing at himself. “It’s just the way that I work, in everything.” For the image that became the cover shot, she wore a taffeta MaxMara trench dress backward so it could be unbuttoned to reveal her back. Even the deep blue color of the garment feels symbolic; indigo cloth was used as currency in the slave trade.

Mr. Calmese wanted Ms. Davis’s hair to be natural; he had the hairstylist style three Afros of different sizes and chose the largest. Her makeup was undramatic. He did not want what he called a “whole glamour moment,” the aspirational default for mainstream American magazines. For all of his buoyant energy, he wanted the photo to feel underexposed and somber.

Viola Davis

“For me, this cover is my protest,” he said. “But not a protest in ‘Look at how bad you’ve been to me, and I’m angry, and I’m upset.’” Rather, it’s: “I’m going to rewrite this narrative. I’m just going to take ownership of it.”

For the image that became the cover shot, she wore a taffeta MaxMara trench dress backward so it could be unbuttoned to reveal her back. Even the deep blue color of the garment feels symbolic; indigo cloth was used as currency in the slave trade.

Mr. Calmese wanted Ms. Davis’s hair to be natural; he had the hairstylist style three Afros of different sizes and chose the largest. Her makeup was undramatic. He did not want what he called a “whole glamour moment,” the aspirational default for mainstream American magazines. For all of his buoyant energy, he wanted the photo to feel underexposed and somber.

“For me, this cover is my protest,” he said. “But not a protest in ‘Look at how bad you’ve been to me, and I’m angry, and I’m upset.’” Rather, it’s: “I’m going to rewrite this narrative. I’m just going to take ownership of it.”

 

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Thrilled to share this cover and interview with @VanityFair. Available now! ・・・ Presenting our July/August cover star: @ViolaDavis. Last month, the Oscar winner took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd—but she’s no stranger to fighting for what’s right. As a Black woman in Hollywood, she’s spent her career doing it: “My entire life has been a protest,” Davis says. “My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest. It is a part of my voice, just like introducing myself to you and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Viola Davis.’” Davis was photographed by @dario.studio—the first Black photographer to shoot a Vanity Fair cover. At the link in bio, Davis speaks with V.F. about her extraordinary journey out of poverty and into the stubbornly unequal Hollywood system. Story by @soniasaraiya Photographed by @dario.studio Styled by @elizabethstewart1 Makeup by @autumnmoultriebeauty Hair by @jamikawilson Coatdress @maxmara Earrings @pomellato 🔁@vanityfair

A post shared by VIOLA DAVIS (@violadavis) on

Read the entire article here. Read our latest Viola Davis article here.

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