By Phoebe De Croisset
Famed fashion photographer Alexi Lubomirski opens Diverse Beauty, an exhibition celebrating his new book by the same name.
Alexi at his opening at Milk Gallery Photo by Christian Hogstedt
Your latest book, Diverse Beauty, challenges traditional societal standards of beauty and shines a spotlight on a myriad of radiant, beautiful women of all different colors, sizes, and ethnicities. This book celebrates the beauty that exists everywhere, but that is often under-represented, or unrepresented in the fashion industry. What was the impetus behind the creation of this book?
The idea for this book came about in large part because of Lupita Nyong’o. I had shot Lupita a few times and was struck by her beauty inside and out. It was a beauty that I had only experienced a few times in my photographic career. Instead of having to shine a light on her, or shoot her from a particular angle, she actually beamed light from within. She was a natural beauty.
What do you mean by natural?
I mean that I believe that what was in front of me was essentially “her.” She is a beautiful, African woman who has not, and is not willing to be “whitened,” or have her hair straightened to fit into the normal beauty paradigms. She made it a point to ask me not to lighten her skin in post-production, as she had unfortunately experienced this in the past.
Had you been privy to this kind of “whitening” or other forms of post-production homogenization in your experience as a fashion photographer?
There have been many times when a model I have requested to work with has been turned down because “she’s too dark” or “too light to make a statement” or “too freckly” or “too ethnic.” With this book, I decided to make a body of work that represented a more realistic spectrum of beauty than the industry would normally promote. I wanted to celebrate beauty in fashion, with no boundaries or limitations and be able to put every type of beauty on a pedestal. If a girl was “too freckly,” I wanted to flip it and celebrate her freckles. If her hair was “too wild,” I wanted to celebrate her hair. If she was “too quirky,” I wanted to celebrate her uniqueness.
After shooting Lupita a few times, a friend showed you the speech she gave at the Essence awards in 2014. What was that speech about, and why did it have such an impact on you?
In that speech, she described how she never saw anyone in magazines that resembled her. She spoke about praying every night that she would wake up with lighter skin, and every morning, she would wake up with the same rich, dark skin and would be left feeling disheartened. Then, the Sudanese model, Alek Wek, came on the scene and all of a sudden, Lupita saw someone that looked like her splashed across the pages of the “fashion bibles.” She suddenly felt that her type of beauty was validated and her young self was allowed to feel beautiful. As a new father, this story touched me deeply, as I saw how society’s perception of beauty could have such a profound effect on a young person’s self worth.
It would seem this was a turning point for you; one that led you to actively challenge the beauty norms that perhaps you had been silently rebelling against your entire career.
I wanted to make a book of beautiful fashion images, where someone could look through the pages and see that the idea of beauty can come in a vast range of different shapes, sizes, colors and looks. Where that same person could find a page and recognize herself in that photo and feel represented – and if needed, validated. I wanted to push the idea that the more we show and celebrate different types of beauty, the more all types of beauty will just become an accepted norm.
All proceeds from the sales of the book will benefit Concern Worldwide, the humanitarian organization that works to transform the lives of the world’s poorest people. Why did you choose this particular organization as the beneficiary of the book’s proceeds?
I have been associated with CONCERN for about 11 years. I wrote and a published a book for my sons in 2013 called Princely Advice for a Happy Life, and I decided to choose Concern as the benefactor for the book’s proceeds because I wanted a charity that anybody could relate to. CONCERN is everywhere. Whenever you see a story on the news about a natural disaster, ebola, the refugees crisis – CONCERN is there. So even if one story touches you more than another, CONCERN is still the best charity to donate to because they are in all these places, on the ground, bringing aid and supplies to those who need it most.
Diverse Beauty is available for purchase on amazon.com.