Memorializing the Feminine Beauty IdealOver at Racialicious I came across a discussion of a photo shoot featuring Gisele Bundchen and several male models, black male models. I agree that the photos are definitely racially charged, and I also think they are racist, but opinions on that differ. The work as a whole is confusing, and I believe that is deliberate. I think the photographer, Sølve Sundsbø, may have had a few concepts in mind instead of one over-all concept. The one that really stopped me in my tracks was this one:
To me this photo is reminiscent of the Iwo Jima memorial of the Marines planting a flag. But that impression didn't seem to make much sense within the context of the other photos. At Racialicious only four of the eight photos are displayed, but they link to Project Rungay, where there are four more photographs.
There is a commonality to these photos, as well as the first one, that I see. Gisele is bland and emotionless. I do think that she is meant to represent a memorial, statue, piece of art. A common racist trope is that black men (and women) are beasts of burden. In each of the photos it can be interpreted that they are moving this piece of art to it's pedastal or display case. The reaction that people have to beautiful artwork is reverence, awe, and covetousness. I think the last two photographs have that in them. Another common racist trope is that white woman is the beauty ideal and what all men want, including black men, especially black men. I also think that the choice of body builders as the male models isn't coincidental, it is representative of hypermasculity and the nudity represents hypersexuality. These once again are common racist tropes about black men, but also represents a danger to the fragility and chastity/purity of the white woman.
This last photo, I am not sure what the photographer meant by it. The statue comes to life and covets the beast of burden? I had that song from Sesame Street in my head when I saw it, "Which one of these things is not like the others?"
In the discussions both at Racialicious and Project Rungay some people are quick to dismiss the racist aspect to the photographs. They say that the photos are beautiful, and that black and white skin makes for a wonderful contrast in the photos. I am not denying this, that some people will find the photos beautiful, interesting, and that the contrast adds to that. But offensive artwork done with skill can be visually beautiful and interesting. Many people collect and study war propaganda for one example because of the artistic viewpoint and rendering, as well as the social and historical commentary. I think that might be true here also, that these photos have a certain beauty, but that there is social commentary to be made and interpreted in them.