Photographer Dario Calmese wanted to "rewrite the narrative" with his groundbreaking Vanity Fair cover featuring Viola Davis.
Calmese made history by becoming the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of the magazine in its 37-year tenure, and he told the New York Times he saw an opportunity to overhaul the traditional glossy cover and turn it into a bold statement.
“For me, this cover is my protest,” Calmese said. “But not a protest in ‘Look at how bad you’ve been to me, and I’m angry, and I’m upset’. Rather, it’s: ‘I’m going to rewrite this narrative. I’m just going to take ownership of it.’
“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 noted that he wanted the Oscar-winning actress to look incredible in her blue taffeta MaxMara trench dress, which she wore backwards, revealing her back to the camera. The colour of the trench was deeply symbolic, as indigo-coloured cloth was used as currency in the slave trade, and Calmese insisted Davis' hair should be natural for the cover, with three different Afros given to the hairstylist on set.
Calmese refused to follow the "whole glamour moment" in mainstream magazines, and instead wanted a sombre feel for the 54-year-old's cover.
He also revealed he didn't realise he was going to be Vanity Fair's first-ever Black photographer when he accepted the assignment, but he wanted to step into the spotlight when he found out the scale of the shoot.
“I did know that this was a moment to say something,” he said. “I knew this was a moment to be, like, extra Black.”
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