‘Vogue’ Can’t Glamorize Palestinian Terror
When talking about photo bias, we’re usually dealing with breaking news images that are lacking context, misleadingly framed, cynically staged, spuriously cropped, carelessly recycled, or dubiously photoshopped. Sometimes, editors make poor decisions on how to illustrate a story.
We at Honest Reporting have also seen muddled photo essays resulting from computer glitches. We even did a case study on a series of wire photos of a border clash that raised glaring questions of who the photographers were and how they got shots of the action so close-up and quick.
This brings us to Vogue, a monthly magazine best known for glamour shots of beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes in beautiful settings — because its star photographers know how to create beautiful images of their subjects.
Vogue’s Mideast edition, Vogue Arabia, recently published a letter by Ahed Tamimi, who just finished a term in prison for slapping an Israeli soldier in front of cameras. Think about that. Tamimi was trying to provoke a reaction while her mother filmed the incident.
Vogue Arabia sent one of its photographers to shoot a glamorous photo of the 17-year-old. In it, she looks awfully nice for a girl just out of prison. I’m going to talk about how “the sausage” of the photo was made, and then I’ll talk about its effects.
I don’t know the specifics of Tamimi’s photo shoot with photographer Nina Wessel. And I’m not criticizing Wessel for doing her job as a professional photographer. But these five points explain what a glamour photographer’s actual job is — to construct a fantasy in photographic form.
- The Tamimi photograph was neither casually posed nor spontaneous. For the shot, Wessel would have been accompanied by a hair stylist, a makeup artist, and probably a clothing coordinator too.
- While Tamimi doesn’t appear to be wearing makeup, she’s likely wearing a type of makeup that improves one’s appearance with the illusion of being completely natural. It’s called nude makeup (the link is safe to click on) and would explain Tamimi’s missing freckles.
- It’s not uncommon for glamour photographers to use Adobe Photoshop to even out the skin tone on a woman’s face and lighten her eyes. All this creates a striking quality that makes the face especially engaging.
- The beautiful, even lighting outdoors probably required extra lighting gear — lamps and/or diffusers. Unwanted shadows on Tamimi’s face would have been less alluring.
- The wind blowing in Tamimi’s hair slightly over her shoulder may have been a natural breeze. Or it may have been caused by a fan.
Photographers literally take hundreds of photos just to get one good shot. When dealing with subjects like Tamimi — who aren’t professional models — photographers have to take even more shots to get the desired effect. We can only imagine how long this photo shoot took, and how many photos were discarded until the very best image was selected.
The end result of this constructed photo shoot was a pleasant, likable teenager who looks stylish yet modest, serious, and passionate, slightly older than 17, with a certain pain in her eyes.
There’s also a parallel between what a glamour magazine does openly, and what the Tamimi family is doing more insidiously. Both are constructing an unrealistic fantasy. The difference is that magazines like Vogue openly use showmanship, because that’s what readers are looking for. But the Tamimi family, in a sense, creates its own fantasy in order to mislead audiences for political advantage.
What you don’t know from Vogue‘s single photo is that Tamimi has called for stabbings and suicide bombings against Israelis, not all Arabs view her as a Palestinian icon, and her recent European tour is really a blondewashing of terror.
It’s irritating enough that Vogue saw fit to publish Tamimi’s missive. At the end of her 987-word letter, she writes:
People ask me what life was like in prison, but I wish I didn’t have to talk about it. I just want to forget.
No she doesn’t. Prison is Tamimi’s stepping stone to all the trappings that come with being an icon: meeting world leaders, photo-ops with Real Madrid, billboards in London, etc. She has indicated she wants to study law and pursue political activism — and Tamimi’s fame will open doors for her. Prison is Tamimi’s meal ticket.
But none of Vogue’s photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, and show-biz production can whitewash who Ahed Tamimi really is — an opportunistic and attention-grabbing young woman who isn’t really interested in peace.
Pesach Benson is HonestReporting’s deputy managing editor. This article was originally published at HonestReporting.