Yet another controversial Vogue cover

Controversy has been sparked by the selection of casually-styled images of Kamala Harris over a more formal photograph for the cover of the upcoming print edition of Vogue.

In a year marked by a multitude of unprecedented events and milestones, in November 2020, Kamala Harris was elected as the first woman Vice President as well as the first Black and South Asian Vice President to ever hold the position.

In celebration of this achievement, she posed to be pictured on the front cover of the renowned fashion magazine, Vogue.

Kamala Harris and her team were reportedly expecting the February cover of Vogue to feature the more formal image on the left rather, than the one on the right. (Image by Tyler Mitchell/Vogue)
Kamala Harris and her team were reportedly expecting the February cover of Vogue to feature the more formal image on the left rather, than the one on the right. (Image by Tyler Mitchell/Vogue)

Two final photographs were selected, with one to be chosen as the print cover and the other to feature as the digital cover. The first image depicts Harris in a powder-blue pantsuit, smiling with her arms folded in a pose that makes her appear powerful and official. The second image features a more causally-dressed Harris in a pair of Converse shoes, a casual black blazer, and skinny jeans, posed in a relaxed stance in front of a green wall and a shiny pink-curtained backdrop.

The background in the second image has been said to be a nod to the colours of Harris’ college sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), which was the first historically African American sorority. The pearls that hang around her neck were apparently also chosen to signify solidarity with her AKA sisters.

The photos of Harris were captured by Tyler Mitchell, a Black photographer who was chosen by Beyoncé to shoot her 2018 Vogue cover. As shared in a recent article by Vogue, Mitchell said that with the casually-styled photograph he wanted to the “pay homage to… her status as an AKA, and Black sororities and sisterhoods worldwide.”

The second, more casually styled image was chosen as the cover for the print edition, setting the Internet alight with tweets and comments of rage and disappointment at the choice.

While some disliked the casual image because of the quality of the fashion choice, the poor lighting, or the fact that the image looks unfocused, others seemed to take issue with the fact that the image does not reflect the prestige of the high office to which Harris has been elected.

Other commentary also noted the relevance of racial issues and overtones, particularly with respect to the casual styling and what some commentators view as skin lightening. These comments were likely made due to Vogue’s long-time role in contributing to Euro-centric beauty ideals and the significance of the fact that Harris will be the first ever Black and South Asian Vice President in the US.

The fires of controversy were further stoked despite the fact that Vogue shared in an article published on Monday, 11 January, that Harris’ styling choices “were her own”, as it’s been reported that Harris’ team had thought the first image, featuring the blue pantsuit, would be chosen for the print edition.

This statement was reported on Twitter by Yashar Ali, a New York Magazine/HuffPost contributor, stating, “In the cover that they expected, Vice President-elect Harris was wearing a powder blue suit. That was the cover that the Vice President-elect's team and the Vogue team, including Anna Wintour, mutually agreed upon...which is standard for fashion magazines.”

Anna Wintour, the US Vogue editor-in-chief, has addressed the backlash over the February cover photo, stating the image was chosen to reflect the pandemic and the vice-president-elect's "approachable and real" nature. She also stated that said there was no formal agreement over what the choice of the cover would be.

Harris and the team have not yet made official comment about the image selection.

What can be distilled from this controversy is the fact that people are paying close attention to the message that an image sends to the world about its subject. Moreover, it is also becoming increasingly apparent that impact is more important than intent.


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