The concept for the June 2007 Vogue magazine cover story is a diary of British actress Keira Knightley’s “vacation in Africa” – more specifically Kenya. While the idea was probably someone’s eureka moment for an interesting feature, the resulting shoot and story is another re-hashing of Out of Africa. The fashion blogosphere has taken issue with one image in particular where the actress is photographed feeding a baby elephant which has been draped with a leather Louis Vuitton blanket.
After lunch at the Giraffe Manor, a hotel near Nairobi where giraffes roam the grounds, Keira donned a chic gray Bottega Veneta frock to visit the baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Mbagathi, the only successful project in the world at rehabilitating orphaned elephants into the wild. Her diary entry for that day reads, “Today everyone tried to catch the baby elephants so we could put Louis Vuitton blankets on their backs. I’ve never seen anything more brilliantly stupid. I hope Louis Vuitton like it; they should definitely give the elephant a modeling contract.” – via Style.com
The fashion spread also includes a photo of the actress “roughing it” with some Maasai herdsmen- how original -, and some other shots of Ms. Knightley living out her rugged Africa dreams (circa 1910). I know Vogue is not the most progressive magazine, however you’d think that with all the resources they have the editors can find a creative way to tie in the Africa theme. They could have at least hired a photographer like Andrew Dosunmu, Marc Baptiste, or Stanley Lumax to lend their unique talent to the idea. But it just goes to prove how the perspective of Africa in popular culture is so limited. We can say that the editors at Vogue are at fault but, the true failure of the whole feature is with the Africans involved in the shoot who perhaps felt they had no choice but to offer their resources up to strengthen an image of Africa which ultimately would limit their ability to grow out of the early 1900′s image of the continent. This is why I place so much weight on the shoulders of those of us who live and work abroad to act as ambassadors and communicate our experiences constantly. One might say that the Vogue spread is just poor execution, however, the underlying theme is the real problem. The campaign to re-brand Africa has to take place both on the continent and abroad in order for it to be a success. It’s a tough job but the alternative is worse.
more images via imnotobsessed