This Rape-Themed Photo Shoot Is The Worst Thing Ever

wrong turn 1Photo: Via Raj Shetye.
"No, see, this is a really shit idea. You know why? Because it's really, obviously a shit idea." These wise words, spoken by Jim in the zombie movie 28 Days Later, need not only apply to folks driving into dark tunnels filled with psychotically enraged super-zombies who run really fast. They can, and should, also apply to fashion photographers who get lightbulb ideas such as basing a fashion editorial on the real-life gang rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi. Or, photographing models in various states of contusion and death due to domestic violence. Or, dressing up a white actress in redface, or using a Black woman's body as a chair. Depending on how much you're having it today, your take on these may range from their being laughably sophomoric to astoundingly offensive. But, they are all most definitely bad ideas.
And yet, the offensive editorials keep happening. And, when they happen, they will be accompanied by their photographers' defensive non-pologies. This time, it's Mumbai-based lensman Raj Shetye dispensing the denials and derails. But, since his platitudes so closely echo other photogs' responses to their work being called into question, maybe it's worth knocking them down once and for all. Shall we?
The Ignorance Defense
"[My photo shoot] was not based on Nirbhaya,” Shetye told BuzzFeed, using the Hindi word for "fearless" and the pseudonym the media gave the Delhi rape victim to hide her identity. A dubious claim, but let's assume it's true: Does that make it okay? Is Shetye suggesting that the offense in his editorial lies in its specificity? We'd argue that gang rapes, real or imagined, are not ideal subjects for glamorous photo shoots, but hey, that's just us.
embed 3Photo: Via Raj Shetye.
The Fearless Teller Of Truth Defense
“This is in no way meant to glamorize the act, which was very bad.” Shetye told BuzzFeed. Wow, denouncing gang rape. Someone get this guy a cookie.
Shetye further claimed that his editorial is “a way of throwing light on [the issue],” in the same way that Franca Sozzani defended Vogue Italia's domestic violence shoot as "rais[ing] awareness of a horror that must be condemned." But, there is no shortage of condemnable, real-life stories of domestic violence and rape. India, in particular, was transfixed by the story of this rape, and its subsequent trial, for nearly a year. How exactly do these photos "raise awareness" in a way that countless news stories didn't?
The Outrage Is Good Defense
“[My] aim is to create art that will gather some reaction in society," Shetye said. But, pushing buttons is literally the easiest, hackiest thing an artist can do. It takes talent and finesse to incite a specific reaction — say, activism in support of rape or domestic violence survivors. These photos don't do that. They just uncritically depict the violence they claim to condemn. Note to all aspiring photographers: Recreating a terrible thing is not the same as commenting on or condemning the terrible thing.
embed 2Photo: Via Raj Shetye.
But really, Shetye's and other photographer's defenses of their offensive shoots are beside the point, because anyone who sees these photos knows that they are blatant, cynical outrage-bait and nothing more — button-pushing for fun and profit!
Maybe the worst part is the backpedaling that inevitably accompanies these racist and sexist images. "Admirable" is not a word I'd use to describe Terry Richardson (like, ever), but at the very least, there's something admirably open in his épater la bourgeoisie approach. Unlike Shetye and others, Richardson doesn't disguise his own infantile intent to rile. You can at least argue with a guy like Richardson (and this writer most certainly has). Not so much the weaselly denials of Shetye and others of his ilk.
So, listen, next time a super-offensive editorial rears its icky, ugly head, let's dispense with the disingenuous, "who, me?" defenses and remember this truth: You know why depicting real-life violence against women in fashion editorials is a shit idea? Because it's really, obviously a shit idea.

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