Vogue’s photo-shoot titled “Storm Troopers: Celebrating Hurricane Sandy First Responders” features various images of models with workers of different organizations who combated the damage of Hurricane Sandy. Vogue praises the attributes of these workers in the caption: “when Hurricane Sandy hit, the city’s bravest and brightest punched back.”
Although the title and caption suggest that the photos are meant celebrate the hard work of the men and women who responded to the hurricane, they also serve as a foil against which the models stand out. In other words, this photo spread is at least as concerned with celebrating a look and lifestyle associated with money and beauty, as it is with celebrating the working class. This is obvious for at least two reasons.
First – the weaker argument — the majority of the workers are dressed in baggy, loosely fitting uniforms; they are not wearing the make-up or striking the poses so cherished by magazines like Vogue. The models, in literal contrast, embody high fashion. Their expressionless faces and leisurely poses are the province of the elite.
The next image is particularly striking in this regard. The glamorous model not only contrasts with the gritty workers, she is elevated above them; the eye is drawn to her ephemeral presence, not to the men and women below. Their presence serves to make her allure all the more impressive.So, the class contrast elevates the models, figuratively and sometimes literally in these images. We see race contrast used to do the same thing when Black men and women are used as props in fashion shoots as well as East Indian and Asian people.
Second – the stronger argument – if Vogue wanted to celebrate the men and women in working class occupations that helped after Hurricane Sandy, they could have left the models out altogether. As it is, the implication is that the workers aren’t valuable in themselves, they’re only valuable as a setting for high fashion.
The photo shoot, then, instead of honoring the workers, affirms the class hierarchy in which they are embedded. The photographs fall in line with the magazine’s message – a celebration of an elite lifestyle – one that is well out of the reach of blue collar men and women.
Eliza Connors is a first year student at Occidental College. She hopes to pursue a degree in sociology.