This month, in the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar is an editorial spread called “Wild Things” featuring Naomi Campbell. Photographed by Jean-Paul Goude, they picture Naomi Campbell running alongside a cheetah in a cheetah-print bodysuit, playing jump rope with monkeys, straddling a crocodile, and, of course, riding an elephant. It feels almost ridiculous to type those photographic scenarios out.
I am so bored with the image of black models running free in Africa with animals, or even, black models as animals themselves. I am also bored with this picture of Africa as a densely unpopulous, primitive place with animals as its one valuable offering. I was surprised that this was shot by Jean-Paul Goude because I’m familiar with his super-modern and edgy photographs of Grace Jones, there is certainly no modernity here.
Some perpectives of these photographs suggest that Goude is satirizing the idea of the black model in this role, see a response below from Sans Artifice:
As per usual the continent as a whole is represented by the jungle and a black female is compared, however subtly to something that is animalistic and wild. Naomi runs alongside cheetahs, mounts a crocodile and jumps rope with chimps – hardly progressive material but the sheer gusto with which she accomplishes each task (paired with the maniacal look on her face) takes things into the level of parody. It’s as though they’re pointing at the ridiculousness of every other editorial with this subject matter and having fun doing so.
Whether or not it is Goude’s intention to parody these types of editorials, I think it is ineffective. It’s not obvious enough of a parody to be provacative and instead it continues to exist unquestioned by most readers, deepening a psychological pairing of black bodies and animals.
Naomi Campbell looks stunning, though. And who doesn’t love cheetahs.