Instead of focusing on a designer outfit or an ultra-thin model, a new exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts examines the art of fashion photography as photographed by leading black photographers.
Unveiled on Friday, “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion” features the work of 15 photographers, mostly under the age of 30 and from different parts of the world. Visitors will find over 100 images, including portraits, conceptual and editorial images, which have been selected from magazines, advertising campaigns, museums and social media. The exhibition is on view at DIA until April 17.
Some photographers, like Brooklyn-based Tyler Mitchell, who in 2018 became the first black photographer to shoot a cover of American Vogue with an image of BeyoncÃ©, have gained worldwide fame. Mitchell will lead a virtual conference for the DIA on February 24.
Another New York-based artist, Dana Scruggs, became the first black female photographer to photograph a Rolling Stone cover in 2019. There are also images of Arielle Bobb-Willis, Awol Erizku, Campbell Addy, Jamal Nxedlana, Micaiah Carter, Nadine Ijewere, Renell Medrano, Ruth Ossai, Adrienne Raquel, Quil Lemons, Stephen Tayo, Daniel Obasi and Namsa Leuba.
Many began by photographing friends, relatives, still little-known models and strangers they spotted on the street or via social networks.
Nancy Barr, DIA Curator of Photography James Pearson Duffy, described the quality of the exhibit’s work as “incredibly vibrant, young in mind” and said the photographers featured have a “great impact” in print and digital media.
âThey all use the medium of fashion photography as a form of social justice, imprinting the black experience sometimes in new or traditional ways,â she said. âThey show the wide range of black experience and identity of black people today. I think it’s unprecedented.
As each artist takes a different approach, new narratives are brought to light in the work, such as queer identity, body diversity and a range of skin tone, according to Barr. âThere is not just one monolithic identity to the black experience or to the black representation. It’s one way they use photography for social justice, âshe said.
Regarding the age-old debate over fashion, photography and art, Barr said fashion photography has a long trajectory in the history of photography as an art form. Citing Edward Steichen’s early work at CondÃ© Nast’s Vanity Fair and Vogue, as well as Harper’s Bazaar’s “great story” of employing “wonderful photographers” for editorials (including Man Ray and Louise Dahl-Wolfe), Barr said the magazines were “really getting them early [where] photographers were able to show what they could do with the medium aesthetically, whether in terms of composition or content. Magazines offered a way to experiment with fashion photography, as museums didn’t really showcase this work decades ago.
Writer and art critic Antwaun Sargent worked with the Aperture Foundation to organize “The New Black Vanguard” and published an accompanying book. A virtual tour of the exhibition at the DIA is not offered. However, Aperture has posted discussions on YouTube with a few of the featured photographers. Concerns about the pandemic have prevented an opening event, but Sargent will be at DIA on March 10 to host a conference. Sargent is also a director and curator at Gagosian.
Thrilled by Sargent’s involvement, Barr said, âI’m really excited for this. I can’t imagine better for Detroit, for photography in general, and for young black artists.
As to how fashion photography can perpetuate stereotypes and racism, Barr said, âThis show, and a lot of the social justice messages it contains, breaks those stereotypes. He also looks at some of them. He does a lot of different types of narrative exploration around black identity and culture. Some of the featured artists are from Nigeria and South Africa and have taken images in Lagos and Johannesburg, among others.
Many photographers strive to “widen the field and make black representation and the black experience universal and not marginalized,” Barr said. Some have published their own magazines and journals out of necessity and / or for greater creative license. Early in his career, Scruggs published Scruggs Magazine, a print publication devoted to his view of the male form. Campbell, a London-based artist, created Nii Journal.
Getting black photographers âto take control of who creates the images – creative control, editorial control over visual stories and maybe even text-based stories is very unique,â ââBarr said. âIn some ways they are turning the model of fashion photography upside down. “
âThe New Black Vanguardâ is connected to another DIA exhibit, âBlack Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite,â which is in an adjacent gallery through January 16. The interconnected layout is designed to give visitors a more historic take on Black Beauty as seen in Brathwaite’s photos of black subjects in the 1960s. They can then step into “The New Black Vanguard” to view the contemporary goal of black fashion, beauty and style. The work of six local photographers can also be seen in the âNew Looksâ section.
Barr’s hope is that gallery visitors will consider how young photographers are shaping a new way of expressing black identity in the print and digital worlds, and understand it “from a whole new perspective.” new “. While young people will see a lot that they can relate to, older visitors will see how young people seek to change the landscape of expression and identity, Barr speculated.
The exhibit builds on Detroit’s continuing efforts to attract creative people to live and work in the city, or to appreciate its cultural offerings. Detroit-based Shinola and fashion designer Tracy Reese continue to uphold the city’s reputation for design and supporting local manufacturing. In late October, Bottega Veneta drew a celebrity crowd to its spring parade at the Michigan Building Theater in Detroit.
Fashion is not a new quest for DIA either. In the fall of 2009, an exhibition of fashion photographs by Richard Avedon was organized there. And Barr recalled how successful AndrÃ© Leon Talley’s 2017 conference with Isabel and Ruben Toledo was and attracted many designers.
With âThe New Black Vanguard,â DIA is reaching out to a new audience and indicating that it takes design and manufacturers seriously, Barr said. âFor me, what’s even more important is that Detroit is the city with the largest black population in the country. This exhibit and the Kwame Brathwaite show are helping to reach this community and the youth in this community as well, âshe added.
The median age of DIA visitors is 47, with 86% from Michigan, 12% from other parts of the country, and 2% from other countries. The new exhibit is meant to show a younger and more diverse audience that DIA, according to Barr, is “really open and tolerant, and we’re here to be a place where they can come and really learn new work, new work. photographs, contemporary work and something they can really relate to.