I was perusing on this popular celebrity blog when I stumbled upon a batch of, say, "eerie" looking photographs of an initially unknown but strangely familiar man. I thought, "is that Kobe?", "the NBA player?", "Kobe Bryant?". The article posted below the pictures reaffirmed my doubt, "that's definitely Kobe Bryant". Frankly speaking, I did not not what to think, I was distraught, confused, surprised. I wasn't at any moment loving the images, but I wasn't sure hating them...yet. I was too excited to find the source and purpose of the photographs so I clicked over a link provided on the article. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that these images are part of the May edition of LA Times Magazine (the one on the upper left ended up being the cover). The images seem to depict an "avant-garde" feeling to be printed in the pages of Dazed, Officel Hommes or even any international edition of GQ. The photographs shot by Rube Afanador just don't quite fit the mold of the newsy, down-town look of the LA Times. However, I can clearly understand why Kobe was asked to do the cover. The man is the maverick of the Lakers, his towering, intimidating presence commands respect on and off the court and he's shown a strong penchant for style. And the editor seems to like him for his "phenomenal amount of natural ability for the game" calling him a "basketball savant". Not to mention he's straight up eye-candy.
So what's the problem? If you haven't noticed yet, there is something "out-of-context" about these pictures. First, I was disgusted with the amount of photoshopped, or as Mr. Bryant himself calls it, "doctored" the images clearly look. I mean when did the photographer said,"ok, he looks like he been on the sun-tanning salon for the whole weekend, and all these white ensembles just emphasize that", or I guess he didn't, obviously. I just don't get it. Why are all these glossy magazines digitally fixing the hell out of all these models and actors they put on their covers? When we all know the majority of their readers don't look nearly as the models/actors they feature within that magazine, and supposedly all these editors are claiming that they're trying to present a more realistic product that relates to their readers beyond the surface. But I'm still hopeful that one day I can ignite a change on how folks in America look at magazines, especially fashion ones.
But the the aspect that bothers me the most is the styling, done by James Valeri. Though I'm firmly believe that white clothes always look great against a black pigmentation I was distraught to notice how these pictures mimic minstrel characters wearing blackface, or even on the cover shot where I can't erase the word "slave" out of my mind. I'm just appalled that Mr. Valeri did not do any type of research on black history, mistakingly putting clothes on the subject that resembles a 19th century slave working on some planation or a cotton field on the south. When the images surfaced the net, the reactions were not pretty for the most part. The public resented them. His teammates were on the limbo about the pictures, some were interview, and one that seemed very animated was Lamar Odom, "it's different, it's hot, I like them", and Ron Artest added, "He's a star, he's Kobe Bryant, he can do what he wants" but the rest of them tried to somehow evade the question or give a "wishy-washy" response, which can be assumed that they weren't to thrill for the results. I mean, asking an NBA player to critic a "high-fashion" shoot is like letting the Pope drive a Nascar car, so their answers are not necessarily a determining factor whether or not the images are going to be publish or not. As any publication of such scale, they don't want bad publicity or negative comments towards their business so they took matters into their own attempting to soothe the situation.
Mark Medina, who writes the Lakers Blog for the LA Times went on to interview the stylist to get the whole "vision" behind the shoot. "The concept was about shooting everything in white. That was Ruven's idea (photographer Ruben Afanador). But I wanted to do something more modern and less conventional and less cliched... It's a modern silhouette. It's not like "let's put Kobe in a pair of pants and a shirt or in a suit" The clothing is all layered" I commend Mr. Valeri for trying take the look to a different level and make it modern, staying away from the banal suits we see in every issue of American GQ. But then the transition is lost. Modernity has to do with relativity and time, which is now, and I'm afraid to note that I don't see that in the pictures, I only see a man that is wearing layered semi-translucent white ensembles. I feel there was something missing here.
Then he continues on and referring to the cover shot (first picture on the left), "I wanted to give a modern approach. I was thinking of rapper Tupac (Shakur) where I put a band underneath in the hat to make it look hip-hop, but... it creates a surreal look where it creates a strong image. It was something that hasn't been done before. It's mixing the inspiration of Tupac and a gentleman in a white hat... a mix of hip-hop and a conservative look." After I read this quote I HAD to find out who this man was, I saw his portfolio and he clearly has a sense of style and vision of fashion. His work has been publish V Man, Wonderland, Hercules and uber-gay magazine Out. But then where has all his experience gone when he was brainstorming for this spread? What happened? I'm not sure if he was thinking of Tupac just because he was styling a black man or he as he claims "there was hip-hop playing in the background and he was singing it and knew all the lyrics of the songs" but then. Was that Tupac has to do with the publication? I though it reminiscent Al Jonson. But then what sounded utterly ignorant was that mixing hip-hop and a more refined look hasn't been done. This just shows that Mr. Valeri does not read any type of american men's magazine, not less one that is hip-hop influenced. I hope in future projects this man does some research before attempting to create something that he's clearly is oblivious about. Isn't that what stylist suppose to do anyways?
I don't know how you feel about these images, but I see fashion as an confident booster, a friend, a confidante, an outlet. Conversely, fashion can be controversial, elitist, off-putting, ephemeral or as Karl Lagerfdeld once said, dangerous. If you play with fire you are going to burn if you don't proceed with caution and this is a perfect example of that. They got burned (no pun intended). Honestly speaking, if I was the editor of the magazine and it's my responsibility to decide what ultimately gets printed, this spread will hit the "reject pile"
Photos via latimesmagazine.com