Know Your Meme points out that though people have been doing magazine edits for a while, the Vogue challenge picked up momentum in early June on Twitter and TikTok, with participants editing their own photos onto covers. On June 2, Salma Noor posted an edit that included the caption “Being Black is not a crime.”
As the project circulated, there was a reckoning at Condé Nast, which owns Vogue, as former and current employees called out its racist workplace culture and editors and management resigned. Last week, Vogue‘s longtime editor Anna Wintour said in a note to staff that “it can’t be easy to be a Black employee at Vogue,” and that the magazine didn’t do enough “to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers, and other creators.” Wintour has been Vogue‘s editor-in-chief since 1988, and artistic director of Condé Nast since 2013.
As the Vogue challenge got more popular (there are a couple variations on TikTok; celebrities started doing it, of course), there were also reminders that it’s not about looking cool or jumping on a trend, but elevating voices that have been shut out of glossy fashion magazines—on covers and mastheads. As Teen Vogue reports, Beyoncé’s September 2018 cover by Tyler Mitchell was the first shot by a Black photographer in U.S. Vogue‘s history, and it was at Beyoncé’s request.
The project extended to photographers, illustrators, and designers as well, putting their work out in the world instead of waiting to be asked.
Photographer Cedric Nzaka, who runs the everydaypeoplestories Instagram, told Vogue of the challenge: “We as Black photographers have to be 50 times better to get noticed in the first place and even when we do get noticed and reach those boardroom meetings, we’re frequently the only Black voice in the room, which can make it difficult to be heard and understood.” For Black women, that can be even more difficult.
Photographer Texas Isaiah went further on Twitter: “It’s fun to imagine more Black Trans people on the cover of magazines. It’s even more fun to think of magazines hiring Black trans and gender-expansive visual narrators to do the work.”
While the project is highlighting voices, it is also challenging the way magazines like Vogue hire and access talent. That will start with intention and action, not just another apology.