After fashion magazine Vogue shared their August cover of gymnastics icon Biles, folks were highly disappointed with Leibovitz's work.
Olympic gold medalist Simeone Biles is the star of Vogue's August issue. Striking a powerful pose, she graces the cover in a coral orange singlet. The 23-year-old gymnast has come quite a long way since her first iconic victory—just not far enough for photographer Annie Leibovitz to shoot her with good lighting. Ever since the magazine released a sneak peek of their cover on Twitter, fans and photography enthusiasts have expressed deep criticism of the photographer's lighting choices. Many have claimed that this is the problem with having white photographers try to capture Black models; they simply do not understand what lighting to use or how to frame Black bodies.
I feel you. I did this in under 5 minutes... on. my. phone. 😐 pic.twitter.com/Gl8q2e7Ccj— Come Get These (@VogonVerses) July 11, 2020
The criticism came from across the board. Fans as well as seasoned photographers weighed in. The New York Times national picture editor Morrigan McCarthy too felt that Leibovitz's photos did not do justice to Biles and her gorgeous skin color. She wrote on Twitter, "I adore Simone Biles and am thrilled she’s on this cover... But I hate these photos. I hate the toning, I hate how predictable they are, I hate the social crop here (wtf?) and I super hate that Vogue couldn’t be bothered to hire a Black photographer." The photographer encapsulated what many fans also felt about the photoshoot. One Twitter user wrote, "I think Biles at least deserves someone who's trying."
If a black photo editor did Simone Biles' Vogue cover:— Amanda Huggankiss (@vanderHOODsen) July 10, 2020
By whoinvitedkharisma on IG pic.twitter.com/dGPJ6455ii
Others, however, were divided. They argued that the photographs were of artistic value and actually did indeed represent the gymnast in quite an aesthetic way. "From [the] eyes of a photographer, these photos are amazing," one user tweeted. "Annie is an absolute legend as a photographer." Another added, "These comments are shocking; they entirely miss the creative direction and storytelling here. The story alongside these is about a dark, challenging time with Nasser/US Gymnastics and racism. As a photographer, I think they’re very strong." Some even suggested that saying only Black photographers should photograph Black models was a kind of segregation.
Simone Biles deserved better than Annie Leibovitz bad lighting. pic.twitter.com/I7SvmCmKJP— Britni Danielle (@BritniDWrites) July 10, 2020
Nonetheless, write Britni Danielle clarified how much more powerful Biles and her photoshoot could have looked if photographed and directed correctly. In a Twitter thread, she compared the work of Leibovitz with Biles to other Black photographers with moving models, such as actresses Michaela Coel and Gabrielle Union. They were photographed by Zaya Wade and Dana Scruggs, respectively. Ultimately, it's not about "segregating" photographers by race. Rather, it is a call for white photographers to learn how to shoot models of all races rather than relying on the same techniques they would for white models. The sad fact is that unfortunately, only photographers of color seem to care about getting it right—and that is the main problem here, folks. If Leibovitz and Vogue were committed to representing Blackness with a sense of beauty rather than tragedy, we wouldn't be having this conversation in the first place.