Print this article |   Close this window

Is the Vogue Hurricane Sandy editorial offensive?

Annie Stevens
Published: January 18, 2013 - 11:22AM

It can be slightly alarming when Vogue decides to dive on into current affairs. Like the time they did a glowing profile of the Syrian dictator's wife, or the time they covered models in oil to commemorate the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico. And let's not forget, as Rosie Walsh in the Guardian reminds us, of the gag that was the Iraq war inspired editorial spread featuring models gallivanting with soldiers in scenes something akin, as Emine Saner noted, to "prostitutes brought to an army camp as entertainment." There are also the more garden variety editorials such as the one in the slums of India (luxe to less!) or when Vogue Paris dolled up ten year old's to look like 40 year-old women who both brunch and are in charge of their sexuality.

This time American Vogue is reflecting on the devastation that was Hurricane Sandy. You know, the super storm that uprooted the states of New York, New Jersey and other parts of the North-East Coast of America last year, killing more than 200 people and causing billions of dollars of damage and lost working time as people lost their homes and livelihoods.

Shot by uber photographer Annie Leibovitz for the magazine's February issue, Storm Troupers features Karlie Kloss and Joan Smalls among others in a six photograph spread that celebrates the firefighters, hospital staff, gas and electricity workers and emergency personnel first on the scene when Sandy whirled through. Unsurprisingly, it has been labelled as offensive and insensitive.

The images such as a trio of languid evening gown clad models clinging dramatically onto a coast guard boat and Joan Smalls with her arm draped over a rather uncomfortable looking army reservist are jarring. But mostly because they're kind of awkward. The models have sort of been plonked in with the real people and everybody is trying to seem like they're okay with it.

Indeed Con Ed, the electricity and gas suppliers who are featured in the spread (Karlie Kloss stands imperiously atop factory supplies as hard hatted folk look on in a serious manner) released the following statement to the press to claim that they are, in fact, completely okay with it.

"This photo is a great tribute to all of Con Edison employees who worked to restore power to our customers after Sandy devastated New York. We were extremely proud to be a part of it."

There is of course a fleeting thrill in having one's photo taken next to a supermodel (fleeting because in reality, nobody really wants to stand next to a supermodel). The real problem with the Storm Trouper shoot, which used the 'latest New York Collections' to honour the heriosm of ordinary people doing their job is that it diminishes their work and contributions. It does this by saying that these brave and necessary people doing important work needed supermodels and fashion and Vogue to glorify them properly.

As Katherine Goldstein noted in the Slate XX blog,

"The photos were all taken by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, who managed to turn firefighters, army reservists, and Con Ed workers into props. Did Leibovitz not realize that the real, non-model people in her lens were 20,000 times more captivating and alive than the models or the clothes?"

It must be said that Vogue has contributed $1.7 million to the Hurricane Sandy relief fund which is of course hugely admirable.

And as Rosie Walsh noted in the Guardian

"The reaction to Vogue's shoot suggests that people think the fashion world has no business getting involved in a situation as serious as Sandy."

Which is clearly not true, using fashion and celebrity to raise funds and profile for good causes is a good thing. No matter how cynical about it we may feel.

But perhaps a more genuine tribute in its pages could have been done so by leaving the fashion models out of it. Pictures, as they say, tell a thousand words. Only one word springs to mind with the Storm Trouper editorial and it is, erm?

This story was found at: