“O, The Oprah Magazine” made a photo essay for the issue of race, with a representation of pictures with a reversed gaze.
Photographer Chris Buck took three photos in a feature aptly titled “Let’s Talk About Race” that flipped stereotypical comparisons on their heads, by reversing the roles which are typically held by white women with women of colour, and vice versa.
White women are in a nail salon doing the pedicures on Asian women while laughing and chatting.
A young white girl is looking upon shelves of black dolls in the following photo.
In the last photo of the series, a white maid is pouring a cup of tea to a young Latina woman at a luxurious apartment in a lavish chair, while talking on her phone and not even noticing the maid.
These three photos represent a complicated conversation about race, class and power among women, and the photographer said there are a number of interpretations to the photos.
The baseline intention of this project was to bend race expectations, says Buck. He rhetorically asked over the phone: “When you see an image of someone from a different background, what is your expectation of them?”, and why do we expect a certain thing from someone of a certain race, and expect them to be serving another race?
Lucy Kaylin, editor-in-chief at O, the Oprah Magazine, and the publication’s creative and editorial department commissioned Buck as the photographer of the composition, although he said that he didn’t come up with the idea. She said the main purpose behind the feature was to encourage an honest and passionate dialogue about race, and the main concept idea came from Oprah Winfrey herself.
“It was a topic on all of our minds and [Winfrey] was eager for us to tackle it,” Kaylin said in an email that it was a topic in all of their minds and that Oprah was excited for them to tackle it. The main idea was to do their part to get an honest and compassionate conversation going, in which people learn how to do better and move forward on this topic.
As a white person, Buck, the photographer, said he didn’t find it easy to do the peace. He said it was rewarding for him to contextualize and see how people of different races perceive the world differently.
He believes that one of the reasons why the story was so successful was that it was brought to the public with a light touch, rather than a bossy attitude and finger-pointing. As a photographer, it is essential for him to join conversations about race and social justice, he says.
A lot of social media users – especially women of colour, were moved by Buck’s photos. One of the many was Judy Geralde, Filipina-Chinese American 21-year-old woman, who posted these photos in a viral tweet.
The photos reflect the “oppressive whiteness” in her own childhood and the internal struggles she experienced due to the lack of representation of Asian women, said Geralde in an e-mail.
While she was growing up, it was especially difficult for her to feel that she belongs there, as she was as one of the rare Asian American going to school, and overbearing whiteness was all she could see on the television screens.
All of the Geralde’s dolls while growing up were white, and only one was Asian and it was Mulan. So, she knew she wanted to relate to someone or something even when she was too young to understand race theory.
And Geralde isn’t the only one that feels that way. Many other Twitter users found Buck’s pictures very powerful.
Sadly, these photos were accused by some social media users as being “reverse-racist”, for blaming white people for the status of certain women of colour.
Buck, the photographer, being a white man, said that he is not amazed by the online critics, but people who are overly sensitive (or easily offended) from both sides have to “relax a little bit”. He hopes the conversation about these photos will extend to the real life, and not only the virtual world.