Photographer faces backlash after creating a dark-skinned digital model

Nadja Beschetnikova
March 6, 2018

With drones on the catwalks and CGI model in the make-up ads, the world of modern fashion does not tire to surprise us again and again. Another digital sensation has just arrived. And that’s why we need to talk about it.

Cameron-James Wilson, 28, a self-taught British photographer and 3D artist, created one of the most controversial Instagram-models ever. He’s spent the last years working in the fashion sector and has made a name for himself as a beauty, fashion and celebrity photographer.

After teaching himself 3D, using online resources and YouTube videos, he created Shudu Gram, a digital persona, tall, slim, with perfect skin, which he has dubbed as the “world’s first digital supermodel”.

The first images posted to Shudu’s Instagram account received a lot of attention due to their hyper-real level of details and high-quality 3D-modelling. But an explosion of interest for Shudu started to snowball when Rihanna’s beauty brand Fenty reposted an image of her wearing the brand’s lipstick.

Shudu currently has 60.000 followers on Instagram. She has seen a phenomenal rise in her fan base quite recently, gaining over 20.000 new followers in the last few days.

Shudu takes inspiration from a Barbie doll, called Princess of South Africa, along with the real-life women like Lupita Nyong’o and Duckie Thot.

But not all users were impressed with the creative talent of the photographer. There was a huge backlash from people around the web, saying that by creating a black model the photographer wants to take away jobs from real black women. Let alone the fact, that there’s something strange about a white man calling a Black woman "his creation».

Given that real Black women still struggle for professional equality (just remember recent Fashion Weeks and Oscar scandals), the digital black supermodel, who came out of thin air, touches a raw nerve. Such an industry giant as Prada just hired a Black model to walk on a runway for the first time in more than 20 years. Last time it was Naomi Campbell in 1997.

If Wilson’s creation were a real woman, with the current follower count she would already be earning some cute checks.

Critics accused Wilson of greed for gain with a quote he gave in a Harper’s Bazaar interview, in which he said ‘there’s a big kind of movement with dark skin models.’

‘This is problematic. Instead of hiring a black model, the photographer created one. Is it that hard to pay black women? Also shows how much dark skin is still being exoticised by the media’, one person wrote on Twitter

The photographer says that there was no big purpose or commercial intent behind Shudu’s creation.

‘Shudu isn’t for hire, she’s a muse for my creative output’, states Wilson.

He does not think that the growing power of digital technologies can somehow prevent real people.

“I don’t see her or virtual people taking over the real world,” Cameron said. “The work that’s involved is extremely intense. The only reason I can make Shudu what she is because I have the knowledge of photography, hair, makeup.”

But if an offer is being made today, who knows, maybe tomorrow there will be a demand for it. The CGI models remain a piece of art and a harmless eye-catcher only until they are invited by real major brands.

Do you think this day is just around the corner?