Davis was shot by Dario Calmese, the first black photographer to shoot a cover for Vanity Fair, a publication first published from 1913 to 1936 and then revived in 1983.
Until two weeks ago, according to the NY Times, Calmese didn’t know if he was the first Black photographer to shoot the cover but he had a hunch so he reached out to magazine editors.
In the magazine’s July-August letter, Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones wrote, “To the best of our knowledge, it is the first Vanity Fair cover made by a Black photographer.”
At the same time, in the 35 yeas before Jones was named editor, Vanity Fair had published just 17 solo covers featuring Black people. Since become editor-in-chief two-and-a-half years ago, Jones has published eight covers featuring Black people including two featuring interracial married couples.
According to Calmese, the cover poses was inspired by an 1863 McPherson & Oliver photograph. Titled “The Scourged Back,” the photograph is a portrait of Gordon, an enslaved man whose back is filled with scars from being whipped.
Commenting on the choice, Calmese explained, “When you look at it, it is gruesome and harsh, but he pushes back more toward the camera. His hand is at his waist, you know that line, with his profile going down the arm and coming back. And so I was like: I can recreate this.”
Well aware of the momentousness of the cover, Calmese said, “I did know that this was a moment to say something. I knew this was a moment to be, like, extra Black.”
According to the NY Times, “For [Jones], the image represented the strength it takes to tell your own story, she said. For [Calmese], it is about rewriting an old story.
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Presenting our July/August cover star: @ViolaDavis. Last month, the Oscar winner took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd—but she’s no stranger to fighting for what’s right. As a Black woman in Hollywood, she’s spent her career doing it: “My entire life has been a protest,” Davis says. “My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest. It is a part of my voice, just like introducing myself to you and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Viola Davis.’” Davis was photographed by @dario.studio—the first Black photographer to shoot a Vanity Fair cover. At the link in bio, Davis speaks with V.F. about her extraordinary journey out of poverty and into the stubbornly unequal Hollywood system. Story by @soniasaraiya Photographed by @dario.studio Styled by @elizabethstewart1 Coatdress @maxmara Earrings @pomellato