Vogue's First Black Photographer Captures Beyoncé in the September Issue | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Vogue’s First Black Photographer Captures Beyoncé in the September Issue

Life and Style Editor Sophie Kesterton celebrates Vogue's first black photographer and explores Beyonce's much anticipated feature in the September Issue

Having been around for over a century, Vogue is arguably one of the most influential fashion and lifestyle publications out there, with over 20 international editions making its reach truly global. But despite its long history, the American-born magazine, though very much current in terms of fashion, is still somewhat behind the times when it comes to racial representation. In a way this is hardly surprising given the overall lack of diversity in the fashion industry. Since model Beverly Johnson became the first black woman to appear on the cover of Vogue back in 1974, the magazine’s track record has been improving, but only very gradually.

However, the fashion front-runner has recently taken a big step in the right direction. Thanks to Beyoncé, the star of the eagerly anticipated September edition, Vogue has – for the first time ever - employed an African American photographer, Tyler Mitchell, to shoot the cover. History has (finally) been made. Better late than never, Vogue.

History has (finally) been made. Better late than never, Vogue

Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour gave Beyoncé complete creative control over her feature, and the star has taken this and produced something that encapsulates the ever-present issues of race that still plague our society. As someone who was told that she would struggle to make it onto magazine covers due to her race, Mrs Carter has every right to be bitter or to rub her success in the face of those who did not believe in her. Instead, she pays tribute to those who paved the way before her and helped her get where she is today, reflecting on the likes of Josephine Baker, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Whitney Houston. Despite having been victim to racism, Beyoncé writes with integrity and grace, and shows an inspiring drive to help other young African American artists achieve their dreams.

In her own words:  “until there is a mosaic of perspectives coming from different ethnicities behind the lens, we will continue to have a narrow approach and view of what the world actually looks like.”

Versatile as ever though, Beyoncé does not stop there with her wisdom, but breaches another of 2018’s hottest topics: gender. In today’s world, it can be difficult to avoid the feeling that we have to just be who society wants us to be. We have to fit into the dichotomous genders laid out for us, and any straying from this brands us as ‘abnormal’.

One particularly damaging effect of this is evident in the fact that suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 45 in the UK. This is thought to be largely due to the expectations that come along with the idea of being a ‘real man’, which do not leave any room for sensitivity or vulnerability. On the contrary, Beyoncé says that we should instead be encouraging ‘our boys’ to be ‘caring, truthful and honest’ and to have ‘a high emotional IQ’.

Of course she also makes a nod to the importance of female empowerment, of which she is, without a doubt, an international icon. Quite simply she says that she wishes for her daughters to ‘have no ceiling’ (presumably referring to the ‘glass ceiling’ – the ‘barrier’ that prevents women and minority groups from advancing in the world of work) and to be strong and assertive. Her overall message is that we need to neutralise stereotypes in order to reinvent our perceptions of gender and develop a fairer way of thinking.

Quite simply she says that she wishes for her daughters to ‘have no ceiling’

Beyoncé also gives a very raw and honest account of her struggles with her body image, particularly following her two pregnancies. To see someone who is so successful and so widely deemed ‘attractive’ and ‘sexy’ address this is, quite frankly, refreshing. It reminds us that just because someone handles the spotlight with such confidence and poise does not mean that they are immune to insecurities. And the best part? When talking about these insecurities, she is not speaking as a singer, songwriter or actress, but as a woman and a mother. She admits that after giving birth to Blue Ivy back in 2012, she felt the pressure to lose the ‘baby weight’, and went to great lengths to do so. I wonder how many mothers can relate to that. After her second pregnancy, however, she began to accept and love the changes that carrying and giving birth had on her body. Unfortunately, I imagine that far fewer women would find this relatable. But in a world that says skinny is best, Beyoncé has stood up and declared her love for her now fuller shape, saying she is no rush to see her ‘little mommy pouch’ go. Acceptance like this is exactly what the fashion industry and the world needs in order to develop a healthier and more realistic relationship with body image. The star’s natural beauty shines through in her photos, as she strips back the make up in a move that perfectly compliments all the messages she is sending in her captions.

While there are a lot of positive things to take from this edition of Vogue – a historic moment and some great words of wisdom – we should also take it as a stark reminder of how far there still is to go when it comes to achieving a fairer society for everyone.


Fourth Year English Language Student. Life&Style Editor. (@SEKesterton)


13th September 2018 at 12:00 pm

Last Updated

12th September 2018 at 3:50 pm

Images from

Tyler Mitchell Vogue September 2018