News, Culture & Society

Black photographer shoots Vanity Fair cover for the first time in the magazine’s 107-year history

Vanity Fair’s latest issue features Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis on its cover, making her a rare Black cover star in the magazine’s 107-year history — but even more notable, the man who shot the image is the first Black photographer to shoot a cover for the publication.

Dario Calmese, who has been shooting for the magazine since last year, earned the long-overdue honor for Vanity Fair’s July/August issue — a groundbreaking moment he took seriously.  

‘I did know that this was a moment to say something,’ the 38-year-old told the New York Times. ‘I knew this was a moment to be, like, extra Black.’

Big deal: Vanity Fair’s latest issue features Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis on its cover — and was the first cover ever to be shot by a Black photographer 

The snapper: Dario Calmese, who has been shooting for the magazine since last year, earned the long-overdue honor for Vanity Fair's July/August issue

The snapper: Dario Calmese, who has been shooting for the magazine since last year, earned the long-overdue honor for Vanity Fair’s July/August issue

For Calmese, that meant staging a particularly powerful image of Davis, who wore a MaxMara trench dress for the cover shot.  

Shot from behind, the photo shows the dress falling off her shoulders and exposing much of her back.

It’s incredibly glamorous — unlike the image that inspired it.

Calmese said he based the shot on an iconic photo from 1863 called The Scourged Back, which shows the scarred back of a man named Gordon who escaped slavery. 

‘This image reclaims that narrative, transmuting the white gaze on black suffering into the black gaze of grace, elegance, and beauty,’ said Calmese, who attended School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and now directs fashion shows for the label Pyer Moss.

‘It’s about replacing the images that have been washing over all of us for centuries, telling us who we are and our position in the world and our value,’ he went on.

‘For me, this cover is my protest. But not a protest in “Look at how bad you’ve been to me, and I’m angry, and I’m upset,” [but rather] ‘I’m going to rewrite this narrative. I’m just going to take ownership of it.’

Inspiration: Calmese said he based the shot on an iconic photo from 1863 called The Scourged Back, which shows the scarred back of a man named Gordon who escaped slavery

Inspiration: Calmese said he based the shot on an iconic photo from 1863 called The Scourged Back, which shows the scarred back of a man named Gordon who escaped slavery

Star: Davis is one of eight Black cover stars cast since editor-in-chief Radhika Jones took over two and a half years ago; in the 35 years prior, there were just 17

Star: Davis is one of eight Black cover stars cast since editor-in-chief Radhika Jones took over two and a half years ago; in the 35 years prior, there were just 17

In introducing the new issue, Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones highlighted the excitement of Calmese’s participation.

‘This month brings its own milestone. To the best of our knowledge, it is the first Vanity Fair cover made by a Black photographer,’ she wrote in her editor’s letter.

‘This is his first major magazine cover, and we celebrate him and honor his vision at this heightened moment in American history.’ 

The magazine has also had a dearth of Black cover stars. in the 35 years before Jones became editor, just 17 covers featured solo Black stars.

She has added eight more since she took over the role two and a half years ago, and also featured two interracial married couples. 

‘Our cover star this month is Viola Davis, and in the course of her conversation with Sonia Saraiya, she points to an incontrovertible fact about this magazine: “They’ve had a problem in the past with putting Black women on the covers,”‘ Jones continued.

‘For most of the magazine’s history, a Black artist, athlete, or politician appearing on a regular monthly issue of Vanity Fair was a rare occurrence.’

It took until 2018 for Vogue to hire a Black photographer to shoot its cover, after Beyonce hand-picked him to shoot her for the September issue

It took until 2018 for Vogue to hire a Black photographer to shoot its cover, after Beyonce hand-picked him to shoot her for the September issue

Honor: Tyler Mithcell was the first Black photographer to shoot a cover in 125 years of the magazine

Honor: Tyler Mithcell was the first Black photographer to shoot a cover in 125 years of the magazine

It’s not a problem for Vanity Fair alone — and neither is a lack of Black cover photographers.

It took until 2018 for Vogue to hire a Black photographer to shoot its cover, after Beyonce hand-picked him to shoot her for the September issue.

Tyler Mithcell was the first Black photographer to shoot a cover in 125 years of the magazine.  

‘You know, we should be shooting covers of Vogue month to month, not just as a first,’ he told NPR at the time. 

‘[Photography] was known as a rich man’s art, so it was mostly for white men who were able to afford all of the chemicals, the films, the cameras that went into it in the very early stages,’ he went on. 

Another: Rolling Stone went 51 years before hiring a Black photographer for a cover, choosing Dana Scruggs to shoot Travis Scott for the January 2019 issue

Another: Rolling Stone went 51 years before hiring a Black photographer for a cover, choosing Dana Scruggs to shoot Travis Scott for the January 2019 issue

Her words: Scruggs said the honor was 'sweet and bittersweet'

Her words: Scruggs said the honor was ‘sweet and bittersweet’

‘It’s a historical thing that goes into why there just haven’t comparatively been as many black fashion photographers as white fashion photographers. But the part that I can’t answer is why they haven’t been recognized … the amazing Black photographers and black fashion photographers that have been shooting.

‘The iPhone is the thing that opened up everything. The beautiful thing about now is that it’s no longer somebody that can afford the best camera, but it’s about what your eye says.’

Rolling Stone went 51 years before hiring a Black photographer for a cover, choosing Dana Scruggs to shoot Travis Scott for the January 2019 issue.

Scruggs said the honor was ‘sweet and bittersweet’.

‘I’m out here making history when a year ago I was on the verge of giving up on being a photographer altogether,’ she said. ‘Never give up on yourself or your dreams. Ever.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk