Landing 'Vogue'! A Black Female Photographer’s Journey To Cover Status

"As a Black woman, I never want to let society’s boundaries rewrite my story."
Avon Dorsey Aug, 10, 2018

With Beyoncé’s September cover of Vogue, there’s much to do about something for many reasons: First, well, it’s Queen Bey, of course. And it was the magazine’s first time utilizing a Black photographer to capture a cover subject.

But add to that, this past June, the magazine’s Italian counterpart L’uomo Vogue also hired a Black photographer for the first time to shoot one of its covers. The photographer’s name is Arielle Bobb-Willis.

We caught up with Bobb-Willis, a New York City native, to get the exclusive on her rise to the top and how she got to shoot for one of the world’s most prestigious fashion magazines.

Check it out!

ESSENCE.COM: How did the L’uomo Vogue cover shoot come about?

ARIELLE BOBB-WILLIS: I’ve been shooting a lot and posting on my Instagram for a while. The magazine saw my work on Instagram and the creative director reached out to me! I was very excited.

Arielle Bobb-Willis for L'Uomo Vogue

ESSENCE.COM: How many female photographers have photographed the cover of L’uomo Vogue, and how do you feel about being a part of that number?

BOBB-WILLIS: I honestly don’t know how many. But being a part of that number feels really amazing.

ESSENCE.COM: What was your reaction to Beyoncé’s recent Vogue cover and the use of a Black photographer to capture that moment? Why do you think it’s taken so long for the industry to diversify? 

BOBB-WILLIS: I was completely inspired by Beyoncé’s Vogue cover. I was also very surprised to learn that this was the first time a Black photographer had shot a cover for the magazine. I’m glad that things are changing and that I could also contribute with the cover I shot for L’uomo Vogue in June. To know that the industry will now—and in the future—be more diverse is important to me. I believe the Internet has been a great tool for people of color to get their work seen and to break down barriers, but we have such a long way to go within the fashion world. I would love to see more Black women—and men—shooting covers. I hope magazines and brands continue to realize the importance of diversity and how it brings truth to the industry.

ESSENCE.COM: How long have you been studying photography, and when did you first pick up a camera?

BOBB-WILLIS: I’ve been taking photos since I was 13 (so for about 11 years). After I moved to South Carolina, I learned about f-stop, shutter speed, ISO and so on when I was randomly placed in a digital imaging class in high school. My history teacher saw I was happier when I was taking photos, so he gave me my first film camera. My mom gave me my first digital camera that same year.

ESSENCE.COM: What does the landscape look like for Black female photographers and are there any sister circles?

BOBB-WILLIS: There are so many Black female photographers out here doing amazing things. I love Nadine Ijewere and Zanele Muholi. Representation of women photographers of color is what inspires generations to value diversity and continue to fight for equality. It’s important because it allows for people to see the world and all the layers it comes with. As a Black woman in photography, I never want to let society’s boundaries rewrite my story or determine my future. When it comes to continuing the push past those confinements and breaking free from the mold, I hope to uplift all women so they will be heard, know their worth and never take no for an answer. I’m always here for Black empowerment through art.

ESSENCE.COM: Is there a specific or recurring motif in your imagery? What’s your approach to fashion photography?

BOBB-WILLIS: Yes! As I continue to grow and learn more about myself, my work and what I need to express will change. The biggest motif at the moment is definitely the relationship you have with yourself, the people around you and the environment you find yourself in. What shows up in my photos is the fear of not fully accepting yourself, the fear of not being accepted by the one you love most and how gray your environment can become when you don’t fit in. These things create a tense discomfort we’ve all felt at some point.

Arielle Bobb-Willis

Arielle Bobb-Willis

Arielle Bobb-Willis

ESSENCE.COM: Who or what has been your most revered subject you’ve photographed so far, and who or what is on your photography bucket list?

BOBB-WILLIS: I wouldn’t say I have a favorite or most revered subject. Every shoot I’ve done has been really important to me. There are so many locations I would love to shoot in though. The Rainbow Mountains in China, the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland  and the Cave of Crystals in Mexico are a few. There are many more, but I’m just very excited to travel and continue shooting and to keep doing what I love.