February 27th, 2013
Blacks in Fashion, Diversity, Fashion News
‘African Queen’ Photographer Sebastian Kim Responds to the Blackface Controversy
By Claire

After a firestorm of comments in response to the ‘African Queen’ editorial featuring white model Ondria Harmon, shoot photographer Sebastian Kim took to his agency Jedroot’s blog to offer an explanation.
08 Ondria Hardin for Numéro #141 March 2013 in African Queen
He said:

I would like to apologize for any misunderstanding around my recent photos for Numero France. It was never my intention (nor Numero’s) to portray a black woman in this story. Our idea and concept for this fashion shoot was based on 60′s characters of Talitha Getty, Verushka, and Marissa Berenson with middle eastern and Moroccan fashion inspiration. We at no point attempted to portray an African women by painting her skin black. We wanted a tanned and golden skin to be showcased as part of the beauty aesthetic of this shoot.

It saddens me that people would interpret this as a mockery of race. I believe that the very unfortunate title “African Queen” (which I was not aware of prior to publication) did a lot to further people’s misconceptions about these images. It was certainly never my intention to mock or offend anyone and I wholeheartedly apologize to anyone who was offended.


Sebastian Kim

04 Ondria Hardin for Numéro #141 March 2013 in African Queen
Take a look at the shoot was apparently inspired by:


Talitha Getty

Talitha Getty



Marisa Berenson

Marisa Berenson

The ladies are certainly tanner than most, but nowhere near the bronze/brown glow apparent on Ms. Hardin.
05 Ondria Hardin for Numéro #141 March 2013 in African Queen
Perhaps the ‘darkening’ and “African Queen’ moniker were added later.  So maybe Mr. Kim shouldn’t be the one apologizing.
What do you think?

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49 Responses to “‘African Queen’ Photographer Sebastian Kim Responds to the Blackface Controversy”

  1. Keanna says:

    The original pics of Veruschka and Marisa are stunning. I see that he may have drawn inspiration from their shoot. But his photos don’t appear to be in the same vein, in my opinion. Aside from her skin being much darker, the styling is different. Maybe Kim isn’t to blame. But I respect his willingness to apologize and let public know he didn’t approve the language associated with the spread.

  2. jrDesignerLover says:

    The tanning and title give it a racist connotation…if the title wasn’t what it was, I perhaps wouldn’t assume the models were painted black.

  3. SHAQ NICHOLE says:

    Look at that first pic hand sign (side eye – 666) just saying…anywho, it was nice that he apologized and good to know that it wasn’t his intention to depict women of color. But I want to know, why do a spread of a “caucasian” woman looking like an “Afican American” when you can go get the real thing??!?!?! Why do magazines always do this?

  4. TheAntifash says:

    When I first saw the spread on FBD I declined to comment because I knew where his inspiration came from (the first photo is clearly Verushka inspired), however the title of the spread did throw me off. Kim is the photographer. I think the general public is in the dark about how these stories/editorials come about. There are art directors, stylists, creative directors, editors, and even copywriters who collaborate in the creative process to create a editorials. Often times photographers have no idea what happens after a editorial is shot, as they don’t actually work for these publications…

    I commend Kim for apologizing and clearing this up, but I think Numero France still has some splanin’ to do.

  5. KBS says:

    I’m still over it, but #1: Morocco, the last time I checked, was in Africa. #2: Every time someone holds their hand or foot a certain way does it HAVE to be about the illuminati???????? Maybe she was trying to mimmick belly dancing.

  6. sb says:

    bullshit *cough cough*

  7. Anonymous says:

    I smell bullshit

  8. Dkixx says:

    They could’ve hired models with “tanned” complexions or they could’ve ask the models to tan themselves. His pictures and the original pictures are very different skintone wise. Oh we’ll, they made their money and got their publicity.

  9. bebe says:

    Ugh @ the illumanti comment. But anyway the publication went for shock value and they are getting it, negative or otherwise.

  10. Dorcas says:

    I get what Sebastian was going for. I think the fault lies with the magazine editors. This isn’t the first time they’ve done something controversial in regards to race. It won’t be the last. Their apology was half-arsed. At least Sebastian’s was sincere. Looking at the inspiration behind the shoot, I can understand the decision to bronze her up and it the styling choices makes more sense. The ‘African Queen’ title is ridiculous and there the fault lies with the magazine editors. I think they did it deliberately for controversy’s sake.

  11. J. Nicole says:

    Sorry but I don’t buy it. Inspiration or not, when he noticed on camera how dark her skin was, I find it hard to believe he didn’t think it would be offensive. Especially as a photographer, knowing fashion, he must have known about the previous backlash when it was done before. It’s the standard “sorry if you’re offended” non apology. Just another publication to add to the list of those I washed my hands of

  12. Ada says:

    I still think it’s hogwash. The magazine should be apologizing. They have a knack for being over the top, but hey, they are probably getting the response they wanted. Be it negative or positive.

  13. MISS MEDUSA says:


  14. Lindsey says:

    One thing white people love to do is try to mimic and offend our culture, heritage, and race then give a bullshit “it wasnt our intention” apology. If I had a dollar everytime I heard the same bullshit excuse I’ll be on the cover of Forbes.

  15. Elle says:

    I can’t BELIEVE so many of you are falling for this BS “excuse”! Seriously?! Of course they were trying to portray a Black woman; hence the body paint, clothing and article title!

    Don’t spit in my eye and then try to tell me it’s raining.

  16. dont drink the kool-aid says:

    black women adorn their hair, eyes and makeup in a “white girl like” manner all the time. get over it!!!

  17. Lawyer_Chic says:

    I was over it until this poorly thought out excuse came out. You wanted to protray Middle Eastern women eh? Oh i guess they couldn’t find any of those folks that model huh? Oh he meant Moroccan. My bad. We all know Moroccans aren’t African *inserts sarcasm* and don’t model either. No the only person for the job was this little white girl from South Carolina or whatever. Just stop doing dumb shit already gosh!

  18. lola says:

    He tried it with that excuse, he really did. Whether I believe him or not is actually inconsequential. I could care less about what some irrelevant fashion photographer is trying to say. The people who should be doing the apologising, however, are the folks over at Numero France. As a prestigious publication based in a diverse country like France (with a long, complicated and sad relationship with the African continent), they should know better than to co-sign this bullsh*t. I’m outraged that they haven’t said anything.

  19. smv says:

    They do these things for shock value and the backlash because it gets them attention, be it negative. Black face or whatever they call it is just as ridiculous to me as black people bleaching their skin. The photographer further undermines the readers intelligence by referencing morrocan influences.. BIG DUMMY morroco is on the AFRICAN continent. and the fashion that was modelled was in no way middle eastern. Middle eastern women do not wrap their head wraps as it was in this shot. they damn near cover their whole face from the head , back and around the neck….. sebastian go take several sits, go sit in the corner and face the wall while u are doing it, u are on time out!!!

  20. Indigo says:

    She looks like the tanning bed mom…

  21. marguerite says:

    the editor in chief needs to apologize.

  22. V says:

    And this is exactly why ppl need to leave their ignorance at the door n stock up on their history so they aware of the ramifications of their actions SMH. And plzz the photos of Veruschka and Marisa in my opinion look as though they are mocking Morroccan or South Asian women! The moral of the story here is point blank just hire a colored model instead!

  23. Lola says:

    @ smv

    Alright now, you better preach sis. Go in and let have.

  24. Liz says:

    “I believe that the very unfortunate title “African Queen” (which I was not aware of prior to publication) did a lot to further people’s misconceptions about these images.”

    Ya think…?
    “tinted model” African Queen title… Gee?!

  25. binks says:

    Lies people tell to save face…

  26. Danielle says:

    I’m not buying this bullshit! It’s a cop out, he knew this would create an up roar. It’s pathetic, they just wanted publicity!

  27. Set says:

    Why do they do this kowing it will be ridiculed. Come on there r just too many black women to be doing such foolishness.

  28. omgfantastic says:


    i don’t believe him.

    as someone who has worked in publications, i can say it’s normally the editors who come up with the idea. they usually have a theme they are trying to convey. then, they hire the writer/photographer to bring that to life.

    now, maybe a photographer may have a photo story idea or a writer may have an idea that the magazine folks go along with. but if this was his, i’m finding it hard to believe he didn’t see any part of the layout at any stage.

    am i to believe he just went out and took photos and never saw any part of them after that? whatever…..who knows…

  29. afro girl says:

    They knew this will get people talking and that’s exactly why they did it. Its pretty pathetic

  30. Genie says:

    Hmm I suspect everyone involved got caught, now they are trying to justify their actions.

    As for the references to the models of the 70s & 80s, not even close.

    All of you got caught, and if you planned to “get caught”, to raise the profile of your magazine, shame on you!

  31. tt says:

    please at some of these explanations trying to excuse this photographer. you don’t need a title to these pictures to see what was being done. just looking at the models who are obviously darkened up & the african inspired clothing screams black face. & yes, the title is a slap in the face. this is not the first time fashion mag has pulled this stunt. white folks ALWAYS do this & then issue a fake ass apology. they don’t want to employ black models (except they same handful that are working today) so they get a white girl & paint her dark. GTFOHWTBS!

  32. tt says:

    ugh! sorry for all the typos.

  33. A. Sy says:

    I don’t understand how someone can paint a Caucasian women face to look bronze & black, put a head wrap on her among other things & think there not apearing to make the model look black? Obviously the editor thought the pictures communicated that tone that’s why they named editoral “African Queen” . It saddens me that people are so oblivious to the fact that ,this could be seen as insensitive get it together people.

  34. A. Sy says:

    Also I wanted to state I do appreciate Mr.Kim statement ,hopefully the feedbacks gave him & the magazine a breakthrough of understanding on this matter , and will encourage them to consider using more women of color for there editorials. Furthermore stop the black face stuff & just hirer a Afro- American model . We will see

  35. nina says:

    wtf… ummmm , what kinda ting is this. girl just painted her skin. i’m not really trying to go there because this is very harmless , but blackface comes to mind. I am an african canadian. ohhh the world

  36. Natasha says:

    Umm, Morocco is in Africa, Sir.

  37. Bre Bre says:

    Well black girls like Beyonce been wearing blonde hair down to their waist for years… Ya’ll constantly bitch about white people imitating us and yet ya’ll order 28 inch weaves and die them blonde. 0_o

    Don’t be an hypocrite. Nobody likes them. Remember imitation is the highest form of flattery…

    -Signed a black girl with a bush!

  38. I said it says:

    So because SOME balck girls wear blond weave that makes this nonsense okay? I mean I have yet to see a mag cover where Beyonce is on the cover and they call her the Queen of England. Just sayin.

  39. hipchick says:

    how is putting dark make up on and putting a title “African queen” racist? ….i dont understand why ppl believe white ppl wearing a black face is racist….ppl are just too damn touchy….I just don’t understand why they just didn’t hire a model with that complexion …there are plenty of them out there that should be given the chance

  40. jak says:

    It’s simple she’s not African she’s in black face and if you know the history of black face it’s hardly light hearted or fun. PERIOD!

  41. Onni Erik Adams says:

    Dear Sebastian Kim

    How old are you 8 ? As a photographer, do you have no cultural reference of the history of racism ? You never realized your inspiration. 60′s characters of Talitha Getty, Verushka, and Marissa Berenson also comes from a flawed entitled outlook. As a man if Asian decent. How would you you feel if you saw Japanese women perpetrating Korean women ? It’s shame in the year 2013. That publication and photographers lack the historic references of their own medium. It’s down right scary.

  42. mirage says:

    I can see a PR team spinning this stupid tale in some highrise office. They always have an excuse so we can swallow their nonsense. And illuminati? come on!!!! really???

  43. mirage says:

    And for all those cosigning with Numero Uno, no imitation isn’t flattery when there black women out there not getting hired for something like this. Sorry but what takes bread off my table Í cannot agree with. And those who are saying people are touchy the next time you get passed over on something because you are black shut your mouth and know your role, you clearly enjoy being treated second-best. People like you are the reason this crap keeps on happening. I’ve overcome racism over the years by not putting up with nonsense and calling bull**** when it needs to be called and if I hadn’t been the ”angry black woman” I would not be where I am now in my life. Putting up with discrimination is criminally stupid.

  44. MS says:

    Big deal, it is art.

  45. Jackie says:

    Kim you knew just what you were doing when u took these pictures Don’t Lie it’s not a good look !!!!!!

  46. xi zane says:

    wouldn’t it have just been more cost effective to hire a brown skinned model. on top of that, since when has blackface not been offensive? not sure what there is to misinterpret about that.

  47. Sammy Baxter says:

    You should’nt have to apologise Sebastian

  48. natasha says:

    I think it’s a tasteless publicity stunt (title plus blackface) to get more eyeballs on the mag and their site. Fashion mags bate us black females every now and then cuz they know we don’t like these racists ass spreads and we WILL talk about = free publicity for them. Tired of the bating and bs. Tired of us asking THEM to include us. How about a big ass FU and start our own high concept mag featuring us? There’s gotta be a couple out there somewhere in the virtual world…There are a few well-heeled experienced black models out there but as of yet none of them have started a publication or fashion site. Knowing how big their egos are tho, i’m sure they would be the only models in the damn spreads (tyra)!

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