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'This is for black women': 'Vanity Fair' cover shot by black photographer for first time

Actress Viola Davis appears on the seminal cover of the US magazine, captured by photographer Dario Calmese

Viola Davis stars on the cover of the latest issue of 'Vanity Fair', the first cover shot by a black photographer in the magazine's history. Instagram / Vanity Fair
Viola Davis stars on the cover of the latest issue of 'Vanity Fair', the first cover shot by a black photographer in the magazine's history. Instagram / Vanity Fair

For the first time in its 37-year history, the cover of Vanity Fair has been shot by a photographer of colour.

The long-standing fashion and current affairs title, relaunched by Conde Nast in 1983, commissioned photographer Dario Calmese for the seminal cover, which features on its July/August issue.

Actress Viola Davis stars in the powerful image, sitting with her back to the camera in a dramatic cobalt gown.

The historic image of the Fences star shows the 54-year-old in profile, with Davis saying in the accompanying interview that Vanity Fair has “had a problem in the past with putting black women on the covers".

"But that’s a lot of magazines, that’s a lot of beauty campaigns. There’s a real absence of dark-skinned black women," says Davis. When you couple that with what’s going on in our culture, and how they treat black women, you have a double whammy. You are putting us in a complete cloak of invisibility.”

The magazine's editor-in-chief, Radhika Jones, writes in the issue that the title's lack of diversity is something she hoped to change when she took the helm from Graydon Carter in 2017.

“Calmese describes his cover concept as a recreation of the Louis Agassiz slave portraits taken in the 1800s — the back, the welts,” Jones writes in the issue, according to AP. “This image [of Davis] reclaims that narrative, transmuting the white gaze on black suffering into the black gaze of grace, elegance and beauty.”

Calmese, who lives in New York, is a writer and director as well as a photographer. His works have been shown at galleries including New York's Aperture Gallery, he's lensed figures including Beyonce, and directed fashion brand Pyer Moss's acclaimed spring / summer 2020 show.

Taking to Instagram to celebrate the Vanity Fair cover, Calmese said the work was his "protest".

"Thank you to every black woman who’s felt invisible despite being on the front line of every fight. We see you. You are loved, you are powerful, and you are beautiful. This is for you," he wrote.

Calmese also shot a number of portraits of Davis that accompany her interview.

In the article, she opens up about being a woman of colour in Hollywood, saying her "entire life has been a protest".

"My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest. It is a part of my voice, just like introducing myself to you and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Viola Davis'," she says.

The actress, who is the first black woman to win Oscar, Tony and Emmy Awards, also criticised the lack of accurate representation on screen.

“Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” said Davis, who is set to star as Michelle Obama in a new TV series this year. “They’re invested in the idea of what it means to be black, but … it’s catering to the white audience.

"The white audience at the most can sit and get an academic lesson into how we are. Then they leave the movie theatre and they talk about what it meant. They’re not moved by who we were.”

Updated: July 15, 2020 12:52 PM

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