Look back at a century of Vogue covers (or any Western fashion mag, really) and while the clothing, hair and make-up trends change, one thing always seemed to be in style: white faces. At least until the past year or so, which has seen Vogue’s first-ever covers shot by a black photographer – 24-year-old Tyler Mitchell for the US edition – and a woman of colour – Nadine Ijewere in Britain. Does that mean the industry’s myopic, exclusive definition of beauty is dissolving? Slowly, belatedly, yes, says curator and New York Times critic Antwaun Sargent in his first book The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion and an eponymous exhibition at New York’s Aperture Foundation (until 18 January).
He spotlights 15 fast-rising black photographers, including Mitchell and Ijewere, who are reclaiming how the black figure is depicted and driving industry inclusivity. But, Sargent adds, that’s only been possible by “cutting out traditional gatekeepers”. How? Setting up their own diversity-focused casting agencies, like Campbell Addy’s Nii Agency, and getting noticed by posting work directly to social media: “The New Black Vanguard’s motivation to self-
publish is an assertion of control over representation.”