One Sunday afternoon, a model I was shooting arrived with a older white woman he introduced as his agent. I won't reveal the name of the agency , but it was an affiliate of the NTA Talent umbrella. She didn't stay long, but she did stay long enough to get comfortable and shed some light on some things.
While she was at my place, I decided to give a fresh eye a sneak peek of the concept I was working on for my website I was building . I showed her two images that were going to flash back and forth on thte splash page introducing my website... one was of actor/model Donovan Christie Jr., who is a light-skinned Black/ Puerto Rican man, and the other was America's Next Top Model finalist Eugena Washington, who is a fairly dark-skinned Black American woman. The images where beautiful portraits of them holding a slip of paper in their mouth with my name on it. I showed her the images and she offered her feedback. Any advice that was gonna be helpful toward making my website better I was more than willing to receive with open arms.
above: Eugena Washington
below: Donovan Christie Jr.
She told me the images where beautiful, but if I wanted my website to be effective I should replace the black girl with a white one. She said that this had nothing to do with the quality of the image or how beautiful the black girl was, because she was "no questions" gorgeous. She said that I shouldn't open my website with images of two models of color, specifically a woman of color. She said since the majority of fashion clients are gonna be white people, replacing the black girl with a white one would help make them feel connected and relate to my ideas of beauty.
I wasn't shocked by what she said but I was disappointed. It disappointed me that in this so-called post-racism climate that people like her found it difficult to identify with an idea of beauty that didn't look like them. They only connect and respond to other people who are white. We still live in a society where white ideas of beauty are the template for what is considered normal definitions of beauty. Everything else is considered "exotic" and unrelateable.
When I first came to NY other fashion people had told me I had too many models of color in my portfolio and that I should "diversify" my portfolio to incorporate majority white models so fashion clients don't feel alienated and disconnected from my work. I wasn't surprised by hearing someone say these things, but it was the very first time someone white said it directly to my face.
I didn't pay any attention to those kinds of criticisms about my work not being diverse enough. I was taught that an artist's work is a representation of either who he are she is or who they aspire to be. I am a Black American born and raised in Memphis, Tn. I am proud of all aspects of who I am and where I come from. Part of who I am is the ability to find fashion and beauty in anyone and use the resources available to me to communicate my visions. Through my photography I try to capture the beauty of whomever is in front of my lens and celebrate the best of who that person is. My family, friends, and the environment I grew up in shaped and developed my ideas of who I am and my ideas of what is beautiful.
My body of work is very diverse in race, age, genders, and all types of skintones... but you do see more people of color represented in my presentation. I happen to be person of color so why would anyone expect to see majority of white people in my body of work? The world we live in is a botanical garden of beauty and my body of work reflects that.