As visual creatives, we have been given a unique gift; a gift that allows us to see the world with a fresh sense of wonder where others see the mundane. It is an ability to appreciate the beauty and splendor of the world around us as we encounter it and not as we think it should be. We have a creative license to push boundaries and perceptions, but with that license comes a responsibility, a burden even, to be aware of the fine line that we walk between capturing the beauty and imposing it. A recent cover of Grazia Magazine shot and edited by photographer An Le, featuring Lupita Nyong’o, highlights why this is important.
If you’re not up to speed on this event, a picture is worth more than words.
— Lupita Nyong’o (@Lupita_Nyongo) November 10, 2017
In an article on TheGuardian.com, Le states
Le has now confirmed in a statement that he edited the image and that the change “was not born out of any hate, but instead out of my own ignorance and insensitivity to the constant slighting of women of colour throughout the different media platforms”.
To be clear, when An Le expresses remorse, I believe him and I don’t have a reason not to unless he later proves otherwise. And, when you look at his work, you can see why he was chosen for this job. He is good…very good.
Having earned a B.F.A. from the Savannah College of Art & Design, he is a trained professional who underwent historical surveys of western art which, in part, prepared him to thrive as a photographer in a segment of modern western art; fashion and fine art photography. He is a successful and skilled artist that has inherited the standards of beauty that manifest the trends we follow. But that is where things get dicey.
Those standards have blessed many and cursed a multitude. And for black women, in particular, its impact has been profound. It would be easy to dismiss the reaction to removing Ms. Nyong’o’s hair as an emotional contrivance but, feelings are facts in and of themselves that should not be dismissed. It is important to acknowledge them when they are genuine and stem from empirical experiences.
This is one such occasion.
Plot twist…..I’m black. I am the son, the brother, the husband, and father to black women. I have seen black women derided for their curves, lips, nose, and yes hair. It has been their cultural inheritance. And at one time or another, the weight of the comparison to the referenced standards has left deep and lingering wounds.
Even though we are far from the worst of those days, the vestiges of those attitudes remain in some form; reminding us of a time and place from whence we wish not to return. Again, I don’t ascribe any malice to An Le. His eye was trained to remove an “undesirable” element in his photograph that he believed would result in a better image. In hindsight, it is evident that he needed to see outside the frame, to a bigger picture.
For Lupita and many black women, this was like brushing against a wound that is still sore. Unfortunately for An Le and Grazia Magazine, they didn’t get the memo and ran into a buzzsaw.
You don’t touch a black woman’s hair; with your hand or your healing brush…not without permission.
Culturally, we are currently embarked on a long journey to arrive at a place where those black features are no longer stigmatized but, deemed good and beautiful. As creatives, we can play a part in capturing and preserving the beauty in that journey. This is a good opportunity to cultivate that awareness and do it.