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Detroit hails the dawn of a new era in Black fashion photography

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The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion traces the impact of Campbell Addy, Tyler Mitchell, Quil Lemons, and many others within culture today

A first-of-its-kind exhibition pays homage to an incumbent generation of Black fashion photographers in Detroit. Opening last weekend, The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion will display the work of 15 trailblazing photographers across 100-plus portraits, editorials, and test shoots, pilfered from magazines, ad campaigns, and social media. The Black experience is anything but monolithic and most of these featured artists, from Nigeria, South Africa, London, and New York, are not yet 30 years old. It gives an “incredibly dynamic, youthful in spirit” quality to the work on show, as Nancy Barr, the museum’s curator, said.

From Micaiah Carter, to Campbell Addy, to Ruth Ossai, the exhibition honours some of the most in-demand creatives of the moment. This includes Tyler Mitchell, who became the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of US Vogue, doing so with an image of Beyoncé – though he was already well on his way to changing the face of fashion imagery before that moment. Known for his depictions of Black utopias, such as the series I’m Doing Pretty Hood In My Pink Polo, which he made with Dazed in 2016, Mitchell has long sought to visualise what he calls a “full range of expressions possible for a Black man in the future”. 

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The New Black Vanguard first came to life as a fat coffee table tome back in 2019, led by writer and critic Antwaun Sargent. Plans for a physical showcase were ultimately thwarted by the pandemic but the institute’s curators persevered, believing that the work deserved to be platformed. “They all use the medium of fashion photography as a form of social justice, by imprinting the Black experience sometimes in new ways or in traditional ways,” Barr said. “They are showing the vast range of Black experience and Black identity in the present day. I think that is unprecedented.”

Other photographers highlighted in the show comprise Dana Scruggs, the first Black female photographer to shoot a Rolling Stone cover in 2019, Arielle Bobb-Willis, Awol Erizku, Jamal Nxedlana, Nadine Ijewere, Renell Medrano, Adrienne Raquel, Quil Lemons, Stephen Tayo, Daniel Obasi, and Namsa Leuba. Not long ago Bottega Veneta descended on Detroit to hold its Salon 03 show, but came under criticism by locals for not inviting many of the city’s prominent Black creatives. “To me, what’s even more important is that Detroit is the city with the largest Black population in the country,” Barr continued, “this show is helping to reach out to that community and younger people in that community, too.”

The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion will run until April 17 2022 at Detroit Institute of Arts