The original idea for the remarkable Glamour magazine photoshoot was to have Simone Biles literally dress in an American flag as a way of showing her patriotism for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
Photographer Kennedi Carter, however, had another idea. She wanted to show that patriotism comes in many forms. So Carter had Biles wear the red, white and blue but do it in a way that was subtle yet powerful.
“I wanted to do something that would reference the aesthetic of America,” Carter told USA TODAY Sports, “but not have her literally dressed in an American flag.”
The result is the best gymnast of all time, in one of the most elegant and powerful athlete photoshoots ever done.
“Patriotism has many different looks,” said Carter. “I wanted to show that patriotism isn’t just about a flag, but other things.”
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The shoot was unique in another way. Black women are increasingly appearing on mainstream magazine covers after years of effectively being ignored. It’s still rare for Black women to grace them and even rarer to have a Black woman like Carter shoot those covers.
Having a Black woman on the cover of Glamour, photographed by another Black woman, isn’t unprecedented in mainstream magazine history, but it’s still unicorn territory and historical.
As we celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in America, it’s important to stop and take note where we are, both as a nation, and with these two particular women. Here are two Americans, each reaching the pinnacle of their professions, one in gymnastics, long dominated by whites; and then Carter in photography, which for so long closed its doors to Blacks for these types of shoots.
These are remarkable stories in a remarkable time as the country is at a sort of racial crossroads. White nationalism is rising as the FBI says white supremacy is the largest domestic terror threat facing the country.
Then, conversely, Juneteenth is established as a federal holiday, and two Black women come together to compose a powerful piece of art.
Carter said the shoot took place in Houston in April. “She was really nice, professional and about her business,” Carter said of Biles. “Overall, she’s just a very beautiful person.”
“One of the biggest things that sort of surprised me was she’s very little,” Carter said of the 4-foot-8 Biles, “but she’s obviously also larger than life. She’s so powerful both physically and mentally.”
Carter’s emphasis, according to her website, is on “Black subjects. Her work highlights the aesthetics & sociopolitical aspects of Black life as well as the overlooked beauties of the Black experience: skin, texture, trauma, peace, love and community. Her work aims to reinvent notions of creativity and confidence in the realm of Blackness.”
You can say Carter did just that with her photographs of Biles.