Paris-based Cameroon-born photographer Mario Epanya is back at it again with celebration of diversity in black beauty. In collaboration with Shoko Press, Epanya has created a stunning collection of full colour portraits that feature everyday women and models. This beautifully bound 168 page hardback book, which launches today, is the latest project in Epanya’s diversity-driven campaigns in portraiture and fashion. With his most notable projects being his series of fictional Vogue Africa covers and his photography exhibition GLAMAZONIA.
It all began when this commercial beauty and fashion photographer set up his studio, Studioepanya, in 2007. It’s there that he began shaping the modern face of African beauty, fashion and style through a technique that wasn’t utilised at the time. To tackle the lack of diversity, he began to highlight the myriad of shades and textures in black skin tone and hair. He went even further to illustrate the variety of body shapes and sizes. A move that garnered great publicity, mostly for the fact that it started the much-needed conversation on how black beauty is perceived or perpetuated in the media. The latest work not only continues the narrative, but pays homage to the women who raised him -his grandmother, mother, sisters, aunts and friends.
Interestingly, it’s been seven years since the fictional Vogue Africa Covers and a little over a decade since Epanya began his photography career. While there has been more inclusion in the world of fashion, there is still a lot of room for improvement on how the world relates beauty and skin colour. Skin takes up approximately 20 square feet of your body, making it the largest organ you have between you and the outside world. That biologically puts it in charge of everything from protection and health diagnostics to comfort and pleasure. Yet, we remain fixated on the cultural perspective of it and how it plays a fundamental gauge in women’s beauty criterions. Standards that, till today, place a higher price on fairer skin. The skin whitening product industry is projected to be bringing in a whopping $3 Billion globally. With Nigeria being one of the biggest spenders on the continent, at a shocking 77 percent of women using these products, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
It’s evident that the colour of our skin will always play a part in how we perceive beauty. That’s why projects such as BEAUTIFUL are crucial, now more than ever. Visual stories that tell the current and the next generation that it’s okay to celebrate who you are and that black is indeed beautiful.