There are thousands of ways to look at things. This is just how I do it. Once a week, we'll look at a piece of art that speaks to our current moment. Today, we're looking at our next Vice President.
Last week, the February cover of Vogue featuring Vice President-elect Kamala Harris leaked to an extremely critical reception.
Captured by Tyler Mitchell—who made history as the first Black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover in 2018—the image shows Harris against a sumptuous background of pink and green, the color of her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She's dressed in a Donald Deal jacket, tapered pants, Converse shoes, with a string of pearls around her neck. The image radiates the kind of painfully studied casualness politicians give off, as if Harris stepped into a ready-made set fresh off the campaign trail.
The unexpected uproar concerned the fact that Harris's clothes and positioning did not quite match the tenor of the occasion of her being the first Black-American, first South Asian-American, first woman elected to the Vice Presidency.
While the photo has a velvety, upscale texture, the VP-elect's Converses and silly stance resembled the You Know Had to Do It To 'Em-guy rather than a clear portrayal of political power. Robin Givhans at the Washington Post put it more succinctly: "The cover did not give Kamala D. Harris due respect. It was overly familiar. It was a cover image that, in effect, called Harris by her first name without invitation."
Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour defended the choice to put the photo on the cover, saying that "it was absolutely not our intention to in any way diminish the importance of the Vice President-elect's incredible victory." Many were quick to point out Vogue and Wintour's rocky relationship with Black women in particular—this cover was only further proof of that. Harris's team remained relatively neutral on the matter, praising the photo for communicating the VP-elect's "approachable" nature.
In somewhat of an about-face today, the magazine announced that there would be a limited run in print of the digital cover in light of last week's controversy. This digital edition is a much more formal portrait of the VP-elect. Dressed in a powder blue Michael Kors suit against a gold backdrop, Harris looks straight at the viewer, arms crossed, with a smile and an American flag pin. Deliciously uncontroversial.
I would argue both images are rather bland portrayals of the woman ascending to the second most powerful position in the country. There's a layer of remove, a staidness, that is reflected in both the baby blue suit and Converse stylings. Each outfit hints at a personality—she's relaxed enough to wear sneakers and isn't afraid of a bold color—but neither makes a lasting impression. But perhaps after the past four years, a historic yet rather unremarkable presence in the White House is exactly what most Americans are clamoring for.