The controversial cover in questionTWITTER / VOGUEMAGAZINE

US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stands in front of a bafflingly shiny waterfall of pink cloth, pooling at her Converse-clad feet. Her hands are clasped together and her eyebrows are raised in a somewhat nervous smile, as if you’re the first person to turn up to the dinner party and she meets you at the door. Black skinny jeans add to this effect, offset with a smart-casual jacket and strings of pearls around her neck.

Vogue has been criticised for every angle of this image, being accused of white-washing Harris’ skin tone, under-styling her and poor lighting. It’s important to mitigate this overall outrage at the image; Harris’ own team took charge of the styling, hair and makeup. These choices were supported by Vogue who stated that they wanted to show “Vice President-elect Harris’ authentic, approachable nature - which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration.” The unusual choice of backdrop is pink and green to reflect the colours of Harris’ sorority at Howard University.


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Despite this creative control, it is reported that Harris’ team are unhappy with the choice of cover. Their preference was the Vice President-elect in a powder blue Michael Kors pantsuit in front of a plain, warm background. Arms crossed, much less dinner party and much more White House. The word ‘blindsided’ has been used many times to convey how Harris apparently felt when the casual cover was leaked on Saturday.

If this sounds familiar, then know that it’s not just déjà vu. Last year, Vogue fell into the exact same pitfall with a cover featuring Simone Biles. Again, the magazine published a cover that was poorly lit and staged, with blame being put onto the hiring of Annie Liebovitz over black photographers who know how to produce images of dark skin. The prestige of the photographer came above the necessity of producing a beautiful image of the athlete, something which Vogue have tried to avoid this time by hiring Tyler Mitchell, a Black photographer who shot a successful cover of Beyoncé for their September issue.

The Harris team's preferred imageTWITTER / VOGUEMAGAZINE

It appears even Mitchell’s appointment was not enough to prevent Harris’ cover befalling a similar fate. Many have made the point that it’s difficult for Harris’ team to criticise an image when they are mostly responsible for the choices within it. Others have focused on the fact that Vogue has apparently gone against the direct wishes for their choice of cover. If this is true, then it does indeed seem disrespectful to ‘blindside’ the very person you are claiming to celebrate.

The bigger picture seems to be that it is the responsibility of the magazine to take the styling choices and make a beautiful, artistically interesting and, in this case, empowering photograph for their cover. It is unfortunate that when the stakes were so high, it is widely agreed that they did not manage any of these criteria. It has not taken an expert to see that the image is not up to the standard expected from Vogue, so the question is why the experts have not done their job properly on this, one of the most pertinent moments in US history.

Last year's controversy, featuring SImone BilesTWITTER / VOGUEMAGAZINE