In the competitive world of Instagram photography, there is perhaps nothing more coveted than a celebrity regramming your photo.
For British fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson, that dream became a reality when Fenty Beauty re-posted his photo of “model” Shudu alongside the caption “in living color.” Problem was, the word “living” wasn’t entirely accurate.
Shudu is the world’s first “digital supermodel,” an image created using 3D image rendering software programme DAZ3D, and not, as the image suggests, a “living” human. Furthermore, the claim that this “model” was wearing Fenty Beauty’s Mattemoiselle lipstick in SAWC was untrue.
A scroll through the comments will shed some light on the criticism faced by Wilson over the past few weeks, since he revealed that Shudu was a digitally rendered image. Wilson claims it has been wrongly reported that he was “forced” to reveal she wasn’t real, arguing that it was “never a big secret”. But when Harper’s Bazaar reached out for an interview, he “knew it was time to just clarify everything.”
Wilson has been criticized for not being “upfront” from the outset about the fact that Shudu wasn’t real. “I completely accept that criticism. I’ve changed it now, I’ve taken down certain hashtags,” he told Mashable. This lack of honesty did not, he says, stem from a desire to fool people or gain Instagram followers. “It was to prove something to myself,” he adds. “Can I create this illusion that she is real? The answer to that question was overwhelmingly answered as yes I can create that illusion.”
Wilson says it was “shocking” to him that people believed she was real. Asked if he regrets tagging Fenty Beauty in an Instagram post of Shudu with the aim of getting a re-post, he says he has “no regrets.”
“I did that for my sister so there’s absolutely no regrets,” he says.
His sister “absolutely loves Fenty” and kept telling him that “Fenty always re-posts stuff” and that he should “do a lipstick post.” Wilson says seeing the look on his sister’s face when Fenty regrammed the photo made it all worthwhile. Not to mention the fact that the post garnered over 215K likes.
But, a quick scan through the Instagram comments suggests that not everyone shares this delight. For example, comments say things like: “this girl ain’t real,” and “she is not even real person lol.” But, the overwhelming majority of comments are not focused on deception, rather the fact that a white photographer could be “capitalising off black bodies” through the creation of the image.
On Twitter, critics slammed Wilson for creating an image of a black woman rather than hiring a black model. Moza Moyo, a rapper based in South Africa, told Mashable he found it “problematic” that “a white photographer would profit off blackness” with the creation of Shudu. “I wouldn’t have a problem if he’d hired an actual black model and paid her. Black models need work,” he says.
Not everyone is in agreement with this school of thought, however. Nigerian-Finnish journalist Minna Salami, founder of the Ms Afropolitan blog, doesn’t think that Shudu is problematic given the lack of representation of black women in the fashion industry. “The lack of representation of black women in the fashion industry is a big problem that is rooted in white supremacist beauty ideals,” says Salami. “I would argue that Shudu, insofar as she has been designed as the artist’s idea of the perfect woman, challenges the myth of there being only one type of beauty ideal.”
Wilson says he understands the criticisms he’s received, but refutes the claim that he’s profiting from Shudu in any way, and he says he doesn’t feel he’s taking jobs away from anyone. “There has been a lot of misinformation put out there saying that I’m being hired, or that she’s taking jobs away from people, that’s just misinformation. I haven’t been hired, I haven’t been paid,” he says.
He says he hopes that the creation of Shudu will encourage greater representation of black models in the fashion world, and in the 3D animation world.
“Her skin colour is something we don’t see enough of in the media, there’s a lot of underrepresentation,” he adds. “I love to work with dark-skinned models, I won’t apologise for thinking that’s beautiful. I’m not doing it with the intent to capitalise on or take away from models.”
Moyo says that Wilson’s response highlights that “for a long time, white people have had the privilege to take anything from blackness that benefits them.” “For centuries, dark skin has been shunned as undesirable but now that it’s getting the recognition it deserves, it’s suddenly become “cool” and “trendy,”” he says. “Dark skin and black women in general are not a trend.”
Mashable reached out to Fenty Beauty for comment but did not immediately hear back. At the time of publication, the Fenty Beauty Instagram post was still live.
Shudu isn’t a real person, but her Instagram following, which currently stands at nearly 70K followers, now far surpasses that of many human models and influencers.
The internet might have been deceived by Shudu’s lifelike image at the beginning, but Wilson’s efforts appear to have paid off, gaining him a great deal of media attention.