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News & Insight

Diversity & Inclusivity In Photography | Fashion’s Missed Opportunity W/ Joan Smalls & Hari Nef

By Holly Roa on December 20th 2016

We live in an era of change, dissent, and conflict. It is a time when younger generations with fresh ideas and more tolerance for diversity are fighting the established powers that be for inclusivity and fairness; or progress versus status-quo (or even regression, sadly).

Two voices in this fight are models Joan Smalls, who is Puerto Rican, and Hari Nef, who is a transgender woman. Both are at the top of their game and have been featured on major magazine covers and both are highly intelligent and articulate.

They sat down with Tim Blanks and Ivan Bart, president of IMG Models for The Business Of Fashion YouTube channel to have a discussion about the importance of diversifying the fashion industry, which has a large effect on what the public accepts as physically normal as well as beauty definitions. It also provides good macro-level insight into the workings of the industry so many want to penetrate, and you can get a sense to a degree, of what the role of an agent is, and how some of the hierarchy works in the business. The video is below, and it’s well worth a watch.

They dive into the topic of media (visual mainly) as one of the most society-shaping powers. ‘The’ media has an immense capability to shape public opinion and thinking without said public even noticing what is happening. Take a look at television and print from a few decades back and you’ll see a lot of straight, white people living conservative lifestyles that were deemed socially acceptable and suitable for public viewing. Imagine being a person who didn’t fit that mold and never seeing yourself represented in popular culture. Invalidating, no?

In advertising, the character chosen to represent a product is very intentional. The intended consumer must be able to picture themselves using the product and the imagery used to help them draw these conclusions is vital. What if your demographic were largely ignored? It might make you feel unimportant, even abnormal.

What we see on a daily basis is our “normal.” Today, there is a movement of people who want to create a world where no one has to feel like their existence is “wrong” because they never see anyone like them in magazines or or on TV. Marginalized people are stepping up and fighting to be seen so that others like them will know that they matter, and to pave the way for others in the industry.


Given the sort of scale of diversity on any given population today, do you there there rests a responsibility on the shoulders of the visual artists to help build an inclusive narrative? Should we believe in the power of our craft that much, and use it for social change? Or perhaps you have a case against this thinking?

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Seattle based photographer with a side of videography, specializing in work involving animals, but basically a Jill of all trades.
Instagram: @HJRphotos

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