Sunday, May 10, 2009

What if the Gisele Bundchen photo was a black woman carried by buff white men?

Last night I wrote a brief post mentioning a Black Men 2010 Calendar, but there's a picture that's causing a lot more talk on the Net, the photo of white Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen being carried by muscular, blue-black men.

It's discussed at Racialicious, where the post has more than 100 comments, and at Field Negro, where the comments are up to 230.

Field Negro has a questionnaire asking which of five groups would be most upset about the picture. Some of the choices are a black sorority convention, a Christian congregation of older black people, an all-white Southern Baptist church. He says there's no wrong answer.  

The artist/blogger known as ArtMaggot Hysteria left the following comment at Field Negro's spot:
It’s art, commercial art, no more, no less.
And like all forms of art we read into it what ever it stirs within ourselves.
Our fears, our fetishes, our racism, our sexist attitudes, our insecurities, our passions, whatever, It’s all bullshit.
Yes I know the history of propaganda images; I all too well know the damage of the media and mediums.

What is the context for the image? A protect our “Missy” rally or just some high end fashion photographer wanting to tap into our collective id with a study in contrast.
I look at this image and see the lighting, the body, the texture, the subtle and not so subtle hetero and homo erotic elements, and I ask myself how much time do these guys spend in the gym? (AMH)
PPR_Scribe of This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life had this to say:
Nice try, chalking this up to "contrast" in making B&W photography. As someone who admires B&W photography, I think that true professionals would never go for such a "cheap" and tired trick as white skin on dark. That is pretty easy to pull off, and involves very little nuance or talent at all.

No, the point of these images was to shock. These are not even "subliminal," but a fairly blatant attempt at invoking certain historical themes. (And actually, they are not scenes of "rape" necessarily, as the men are pretty subservient to the woman--literally emasculated since their own genitals are absent.) The problem is--it has been done before, so there is really nothing that cutting-edge about this kind of thing. (PPR_Sribe)
Someone named Alicial Banks said this at Field's spot.
what i see first is a glaring INACCURACY!

this would be far more timely if the roles were reversed:
nordic pale emaciated white women carrying one black stud bro...

times have changed

white women chase black men today much more obsessively than black men chase white women

the idea that they may give birth to a beloved iconic obama baby bi-racial boy has intensified that racist fetish/interracial sexual obsession...

in fact, as en educator, i see droves of white men acting like caricatures of black men...acting out the infamous "wigga" syndrome etc...

i pity these white males because they know that they have to morph into pseudo-black men just to date white women...


see more:
Banks's comment is thought-provoking, maybe fighting words to some, but worthy of consideration. However, I still wondered if she's been watching the trailer for Obsessed too much, Beyonce Knowles's new movie.

At Racialicious, the writer highlighted a comment from some guy named Ross who said he "can’t tell if the guys are her slaves or if they’re raping her."  Ross is definitely projecting his own subconscious issues here.  Nothing on Giselle's face indicates she's being carried off by rapists.

What came to my mind was, "Would the photo have been more provocative if it were reversed to a well-known black woman being carried by buff white men? What would be the racial connotations of that picture--rape, ownership, or black goddess?"  

But the well-known black woman in the reversal could not be of Beyonce with a pack of white Adonises or one of the more well-known women of African descent we see in the media.  That narrows the woman down to I don't know who. We don't see that many black women on television, in movies, in magazines that are as dark as the black men in the photo or as deeply black as the white model is white.  My father, 88, was watching BET, as he does in the mornings, and asked, "Is it my imagination or are all the women on BET getting lighter?"

Another thought, would we even discuss a reversal of the Bündchen photo if the woman were some unknown black woman? That question suggests another: "Do we care what happens to black women in general?"

Racialicious seems to have found the picture at Project Rungay, where you can see more Bündchen with black men photos by Sølve Sundsbø, a Norwegian fashion photographer.


Dawn on MDI said...

Interesting discussion.

I remember in the 1980s, a black and white nude photo spread of Grace Jones and Dolf Lundgren in Playboy magazine.

The contrasts were stark and the images beautiful. He was so white and she was so black that I (as a college darkroom tech) marveled at what the photographer must have had to do in the darkroom to prevent his skin from washing out and her from losing all texture.

Both models were so strong and so powerful that there was never a question of ownership or power or rape in any of the images, just two beautiful bodies artfully entwined.

msladydeborah said...


If this was a photo of a black woman being carried by a group of white males, some of the same remarks made about this photo would show up on that one too.

It is definitely not a new theme in B&W photography. A million people could view this photo and come up with different views on what they see.

I find it interesting that inspite of the expression on Gisele's face that someone would question the intent of the men who are carrying her around. That indicates that in the mind of that particular viewer there is something dangerous about a white woman keeping company with that many black males. If the models were all white males-would there be a question raised about their intent?

Vérité Parlant said...

It is a good picture, Dawn, and you and others have said it's not that unique when it comes to pictures of black/white skin contrast.

Deborah, I want to know where the photographer found these brothers. :-)

Yes, I agree on the guy who thought the picture had "rape" connotations. It's scary that someone would think that, despite the expression on Giselle's face. the projection is disturbing on a number of levels, including the possibility that (if we consider her expression) women are happy about the prospect of rape, which is something you'd have to conclude if you think the photo is about such a prospect.

But definitely it shows the man's feelings about black men, and for all we know the guy who said it could be black. I hope not.

I remember this white guy who read a chapter from a novel I was working on in a class at Gotham Writers who decided that one of the characters was sinister. It was an online class and he didn't know I was black. (I have people tell me I don't write black or talk black whatever the hell that means.)

The main character was a young, light-skinned female of high school age with whom a boy described as a dark-skinned black male teen flirted. How the man read the chapter and decided this black boy, who was only mentioned briefly, was a threat to the girl, I don't know.

le0pard13 said...

IMO, it seems for many provocative images or words (whether involving nudity, different ethnicities, emotion, homoeroticism, etc.) raise some individuals insecurities/fears to such a level that it causes them to actually reveal them through their comments. Photographers or artists will constantly push the boundaries that will butt up against society's norms, religious beliefs, conventional wisdoms, etc. It's all is quite human, but some seem to forget that.

Anyway, like Dawn on MDI, I too remember that Grace Jones-Dolph Lundgren photo. I love the imagery of contrasts, especially in the differences. It can be quite stunning or thought provoking (we are more alike than we are different, ultimately though). Of the image that started this, I very much would enjoy seeing that opposing photo, too, of the black woman carried by white men. Perhaps, if we see more such images, people would become less afraid of the interaction.

Anonymous said...

WOW. Dudes are in pretty good shape, huh. Pretty standard fare for Eurocentric culture, I think. Black is in, the person who thought of this is keyed into our shared cultural zeitgeist to a great extent. This image brings up lust, hate, love, and all kinds of subtle things that we probably aren't even aware of most times, until some stimulus brings it to the fore, as this image does.

Another day in the Fun House, can you see your reflection in the mirror? :)

Anonymous said...

If that were so, it wouldn't be so popular or controversial, because people would remember Grace Jones in "Boomerang", lashing white men pulling her chariot. The image of the strong black woman would be reinforced and many submissive white men would make that image the background to their computer desktop.

The current image brings forth a different feeling, tapping into our shared cultural zeitgeist and giving rise to numerous controversial and possibly uncomfortable feelings. There's so much that we can read into it, most of it valid. It's the real tho', and by pushing the boundaries it becomes a topic of discussion, which is the best possible scenario. Get it all out there!

Blue State Cowgirl said...

Okay, I'm twelve. But I couldn't help thinking how cool it would be if Queen Latifah spoofed this with herself as the subject. There would be no question: rape or dominance. Queen Latifah would clearly be in charge.

Yes, and I have not advanced the debate in any meaningful way. But now try to get that image out of your head. said...

Blue State Cowgirl.
Your Young Mind reveals already the ripeness of Training in propagated Perception; in imagining the Black Woman as a Spoof in the White Reality that's being Propagated. A Comical Affair.