Yesterday I stumbled upon this website called WORK FOR ALL: Films Against Racism In The Workplace ( http://workforall.nfb.ca )
The Colour of Beauty is a short documentary about racial discrimination in the fashion industry. Director Elizabeth St. Philip follows a young and fiercely talented Black model, Renee Thompson, as she navigates the fashion world as a visible minority.
After watching this film yesterday, I began thinking about my place in this industry as a photographer.... and then as a BLACK photographer. I am often frustrated by how slanted this industry is when it comes opportunities for models of color. I do appreciate agencies, like Major Model Mgmt. who support my vision as an artist in this industry.
I try to provide images that parallel the images successful models (who are usually white) have in their portfolios for the models of color I work with, but those images never make it to their book because the idea of treating all models equally is not ideal - models of color end up with a boring, forgettable portfolio presentation and remain in a box with limited opportunities and the white models an unfair advantage.
I think it also sucks that many photographers, stylist, fashion designers of color go all out of their way to mask their race by working with mostly white models. Some go to the extremes of changing their name and even lying about their background so industry people will assume they are white. I am very proud of who I am and the fact that I am a black man from the south making moves in this industry. I resist the pressures to hide my race because I want to use my influence to represent my people in this business. I am proud that my work helps this industry to see models of color the same way their white counterparts are viewed. It allows them to be on a more equal playing ground - giving the models of color a fair chance.
I grew up during the height of the supermodel craze.... with models of color like Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Tyson Beckford, Jason Olive, Veronica Webb, Beverly Peele, Roshumba, Sekou Carradine,Will LeMay, Daisy Fuentez and so many more..... seeing them made me hopeful. I wanted to see more colored faces and I really believed I could contribute to this industry.
After last years, Vogue Italia "Black" issue, I attempted to put together a portrait series that celebrated the black male models in the industry called IM2: The Invisible Men Project - I never expected to receive resistance from the models and their agents - especially since I had worked with so many of them in the beginning stages of their careers. I even had an agent tell me directly that had i been a big named white photographer, he would allow his working models to be apart of the project. The models themselves were either too afraid to do it on their own or just weren't interested because they are booking some jobs. I can't do it by myself so i'm scrapping the project....for now.
I think this film is a great way to spark real dialogue that might help open the eyes of designers, editors, and agents in this industry....
This film asks the questions: Why isn’t the multi-cultural society that we live in reflected in our magazines, on billboards and on the runways of fashion shows? And who are the parties involved in this industry’s lack of diversity? Does the answer lie somewhere in the back rooms of fashion magazines or in the offices of casting directors of fashion shows? Is it something that is discussed at advertising agencies, or between designers and modeling agencies? Whatever the answer, the fact is that models of color work less, and their chances of success are very low.
Everytime I do a post about this issue I feel people going "oh lawrd, not this again" but I will continue to use my internet presence to discuss this issues until other people within the industry step up and take a chance and catch up with the diverse world we are living in now.
And what do you think? Work For All in partnership with Schema Magazine is launching a quest for your stories about how racism affects the world of fashion. And, they are launching a live event with our other partner The Museum of Vancouver. Find out more about this contest and event at Schema Magazine.