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News & Insight

Vogue Brasil’s Paralympic Photo Campaign Is Causing A Stir | Photoshopping Actors To Look Like Amputees

By Kishore Sawh on August 27th 2016

No sooner has the dust begun to settle from the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics that the Rio Paralympic Games are to begin with just a few pages of the calendar. As such, the city and media are gearing up to promote the event which stands as a global embodiment and testament of human willpower. However, it’s photography which has again taken center stage even before the talent do, because Vogue Brasil has made a rather questionable decision to promote the Paralympic Games not with olympians, but with television actors who have been photoshopped to look like amputees.

It was the post to the publication’s Instagram page which stirred emotions and a relatively palpable amount of public outcry. The company has stated in the post (written in Portuguese but roughly translated by Google) that the idea of the ‘We are all Paralympians’ campaign was to, “attract visibility to the Special Olympics, and highlight the relevance of Brasilian disabled athletes in the panorama of the national sport.” To do this, two Brasilian soap opera stars, Cleo Pires and Paulo Vilhena, were photoshopped to look like amputees.

A photo posted by Vogue Brasil (@voguebrasil) on

This action surely seems to have succeeded in bringing attention to the games, but perhaps not in the way desired. in about zero time, many took to IG and Twitter to call out the company on ‘hypocrisy’ and failing to recognize an opportunity to feature the real Paralympians, and casting them in the shadow of celebrity appeal. Others were not so kind, calling it an ‘unreasonable oversight’ and ‘offensive’.

It probably warrants saying here that on top of all of this, Cleo Pires and Paulo Vilhena are both ambassadors of the Brasilian Paralympic Committee; a committee that apparently gave its blessing. Furthermore, it appears Andre Passos, the photographer, also shot Bruna Alexandre and Renato Leite, two Brasilian athlete amputees who seem to be the inspiration for the shoot. Why they chose not to have her featured is something Vogue Brasil would have to answer, though Cleo Pires has been the most outspoken about the backlash, but insisting there’s nothing wrong with the campaign.

The HuffingtonPost UK was able to speak to a spokesperson from Vogue Brasil’s press office, who pointed out the campaign had not been created by Vogue, but by the actors in it along with the publicity agency Agência África,” and that,

Vogue respects the opinions of readers who disagreed with the campaign format, but reiterates its commitment to promote the importance of Paralympic games. We will continue to support all of the Paralympic committee initiatives that can increase the number of attendees at the Paralympic games.

Perhaps that’s better left for the millions of disabled people on the planet.

[REWIND: The Unfortunate History of Racial Bias In Photography]

Either way, it’s a cautionary tale of sorts, highlighting once more the power of one single piece of imagery/content, and the kind of effect a basic still photo can have today.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Chuck Savadelis

    Since when has Vogue ever been about anything real?

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  2. Pye Jirsa

    Very odd, I’m super curious how anyone could think this is a good idea. It would have to go through several layers to be approved before becoming a shoot, and then eventually being featured.

    I don’t understand how nobody put up the argument of actually using the athletes versus models and then Photoshopping in their disabilities. It’s kinda nuts, maybe more than kinda.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Oh I’m sure they’re wishing they had now. I thought about including some of the comments on the images, but they were a bit too…shall we say, crass?

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  3. Curtis Mason

    I’m not sure if you did the google translation of the ad goal, but I think the Paralympics is different from the Special Olympics

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Nope, we didn’t do the translation. One hopes it came across better in Portuguese.

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