Does All Representation Matter?

A British fashion photographer and 3d modelist, Cameron James Wilson, has gotten into a quagmire of some sorts with his recent creation after a virtual model, Shudu, made waves on social media following released photos of features for a fashion magazine.

With features that gain a similarity to those of Duckie Thot, the dark-skinned “model” which has been described as the World’s First Digital Supermodel, now has over 62,000 followers on Instagram

Cameron-James Wilson, the 28 year-old, self taught, London-based photographer, who spent the last 10 years working in the fashion industry, regards it as art, akin to a painting or an illustration, which is not intended to capitalise in any form but showcase the diversity of the human form.

The photographer said according to an article on Isiuwa, “I wouldn’t say that she had any real purpose, it was just because I wanted to. I’m driven to create beautiful depictions of women, I don’t really know why, but as long as I can remember I would sit and draw women…the point is really that I’m doing something I love. I love technology, Sci-fi films, gaming, CGI movies like Final Fantasy, Shudu is just everything I’m passionate about brought together. She embodies the best parts of the things that inspire me”, reiterating that he created the model to “represent the models of today and their beauty.” 

Shudu. Credit: Cameron James Wilson

“I use a 3D modeling program. It’s like virtual photography, so once I create her, I can kind of pose her in certain ways,” Wilson explained. A single image, like the one seen on Fenty’s Instagram, takes several days to create, he said, referring to the repost of the image by the brand. However, whether or not Fenty Beauty, who worked with Duckie on the brand’s launch, knows about the model being a computer-generated image is yet to be ascertained.

According to a video by Affinity magazine, Wilson created the model after he noticed there was a “big movement with dark skin”. “I was speaking with a young girl from South Africa called Mitondo Masaninga, and as she’s inspired by a South African tribe I asked Mitondo to do a bit of research and find a suitable name… She asked her friends and I think one of them suggested Shudu and it just stuck.”

But many others disagree, especially as the black culture has often been wrought with appropriation of culture and resources without adequate compensation. The main concern, that of a white man finding away to profit off the visibility, and now admirable features of dark skinned women without actually having to pay one. Others on social media are echoing these sentiments, suggesting that Wilson is exploiting black beauty by not simply hiring an actual black model especially after having to fight down racial constructs to get to where they are today.

But Wilson stresses in replies to comments on his feed, “nobody paid me to do what I do, I use my photography to work with black models, but when I’m not shooting and have free time, I also want to be able to feel free to express my creativity. My goal is to have my own sci-fi graphic novel and Shudu was created during my learning process for the skills I needed to do that.

Nfon & Shudu. Credit: Cameron James Wilson

Shudu isn’t the only computer-generated account on Instagram. Miquela, also a CGI, has 560,000+ followers who follow along as she models new clothes, takes selfies, and sells merchandise. Cameron has also created a male version which goes by the name Nfon Obong, which bears seeming relations to the Akwa Ibom tribe of Nigeria.

With all the events and reactions, inevitably, questions are raised regarding the inclusion, extent and ethics of artificial intelligence and the blurring of lines between the real world and fantasy in the digital world as the world heads toward an even more computer generated and artificially intelligent future.

Nfon. Credit: Cameron James Wilson

In an era where face tuning and digitally-altered photos are the norm across social platforms, Wilson insists he’s simply bringing fantasy to reality. “We live in such a filtered world now, where real is becoming fake. I wanted to create something that is fantasy toward becoming more real, and bringing it completely the other way.”