I never figured Annie Leibovitz as a covert operative of the KKK, but apparently I’m just naive. Here’s what some commentators and bloggers are saying about Leibovitz’s magazine cover shot of LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen — the first Vogue cover featuring an African-American man:
- Samir Husni: When you have a cover that reminds people of King Kong and brings those stereotypes to the front, black man wanting white woman, it’s not innocent.
- Jemele Hill, ESPN: [Vogue] successfully reinforces the animalistic stereotypes frequently associated with black athletes. A black athlete being reduced to a savage is, sadly, nothing new.
- Cord Jefferson: The Vogue cover is inexcusable for this reason: Even if the photo was not intentionally alluding to the ape imagery of yesteryear, Annie Leibovitz and Anna Wintour, “experts” on imagery that they are, should have been able to look at that photograph and realize what sorts of feelings it would evoke in the public. At worst, the picture’s racist, at best, it’s evidence of glaring ineptitude.
- Bethann Hardison: Every photograph that [Vogue has] put of a dark person in recent years has never been good. Jennifer Hudson has her mouth wide open. LeBron James had his mouth wide open. We have other expressions.
- Emil Wilbekin, Giant magazine: That raises my eyebrow as to how African-Americans are portrayed on mainstream magazine covers. You would not show Charlize Theron or Scarlett Johansson screaming.
And on and on.
So now we have to use air quotes when we call Liebovitz an “expert” on imagery, Cord? Yeesh.
Here’s what I think: the photo is the most compelling of all those taken in the shoot, and that’s why it’s on the cover. It’s striking because it draws a contrast between the fierce athlete and the elegant model. The contrast is what makes it a great picture.
If you look at the image in the context of the other photos of James and Bundchen that appear in the magazine, you’ll see mostly poses with the two subjects smiling. Less contrast; not quite as interesting. That’s it; case closed.
If nothing else, though, the controversy does reinforce the power of photography — and specifically, of the moment captured in an image. A video of the photoshoot would capture none of the drama of that photograph. A slideshow of the photoshoot would undermine the potency of that single striking image, too.
So to photojournalists who are increasingly being handed video cameras on their jobs, and who are told the future is in multimedia rather than still images, let this be a reminder that the moment does still matter.
[tags]photojournalism, LeBron James, Gisele Bundchen, Annie Leibovitz[/tags]