Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson, has criticised US Vogue for its lack of black photographers.
In an Instagram post that praised British Vogue’s editor, Edward Enninful, for his editorial choices, Knowles-Lawson asked why the American edition did not have the same level of diversity on its pages.
She applauded Enninful for British Vogue’s September issue, which features black activists on the cover including the footballer Marcus Rashford and the model Adwoa Aboah. The picture was taken by Misan Harriman, making him the first black male photographer to have shot the cover in the magazine’s 104-year history.
Beneath a photo of Enninful, Knowles-Lawson wrote: “Kudos to this wonderful man … for boldly putting out beautiful activists on the cover. When will American Vogue step up and hire more black photographers for cover shoots? We’re waiting…”
Under Anna Wintour’s editorship in the US, which began in 1988, Tyler Mitchell remains the only black photographer to have shot covers, including Beyoncé in 2018 and the actor/singer Zendaya in 2019.
In June following the George Floyd killing, Wintour apologised to black creatives for the lack of representation at the magazine, writing: “Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators.”
However, her comments were widely criticised, with the supermodel Beverly Johnson saying: “Wow – after three decades, fashion’s leading arbiter has finally acknowledged that there may be a problem.” Wintour’s former colleague André Leon Talley said: “I do not think she will let anything get in the way of her white privilege.”
The August cover of the American version of the magazine featuring the gymnast Simone Biles and photographed by Annie Leibovitz also proved problematic when it was denounced on social media for the bad lighting of Biles’ skin tone. “I hate the toning, I hate how predictable they are … and I super-hate that Vogue couldn’t be bothered to hire a black photographer,” tweeted Morrigan McCarthy, the national picture editor at the New York Times at the time.
Last week, when asked about Wintour’s conciliatory comments, the supermodel and activist Naomi Campbell talked about the importance of structural change at the fashion magazine, telling the talkshow host Andy Cohen: “I think things are about to change, don’t you? Everyone used to think [we] liked being the token black person in the room, but absolutely the opposite is true.”
In contrast, British Vogue’s September issue – a typically special edition of a fashion magazine featuring huge pagination – featured 20 portraits of largely black and minority ethnic activists from various social justice backgrounds, including Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, disability rights and LGBTQI+ rights. As well as Rashford and Aboah, these included Prof Angela Davis, the writer and director Janet Mock, the author Reni Eddo-Lodge and the model Joan Smalls.
On Instagram, Harriman praised Enninful’s vision. “To be the first black male photographer in British Vogue’s 104-year history to shoot a cover and the first black person to shoot a September issue cover … is an honour,” he wrote. “But let’s be clear, this has [Enninful] written all over it. His ability to force change whilst empowering others is a lesson to us all. He knows there are many talented people from a diverse background who never had a fair chance, finally the door is ajar.”
Earlier this year Enninful was lauded for featuring Rihanna in a durag – a potent symbol of black survival and celebration – on the cover of the March issue.
A spokesperson for US Vogue said: “Vogue has cultivated relationships with a vast number of talented black photographers, and we look forward to expanding that list beyond those that we currently work with.”