Artist Lorna Simpson Photographed Rihanna for the Ravishing New Cover of ‘Essence’ Magazine—See Images From the Shoot Here
Simpson photographed Rihanna for the cover shot and a 12-page portfolio inside the January/February issue.
We still haven’t gotten a new album from Rihanna yet, but fans can be at least partly assuaged with the release of Essence magazine’s January/February issue, which features none other than Bad Girl Riri on the cover—photographed Lorna Simpson.
The collaboration between Rihanna and the acclaimed artist is an extension of Simpson’s ongoing project reinterpreting images of Black women who have posed the pages of Ebony and Jet magazines. The cover shot and 12-page portfolio inside the magazine are titled “Earth & Sky,” and feature the Barbados-born singer and businesswoman dressed in designer clothing from the likes of Prada, Rick Owens, Hood by Air, and her own Savage X Fenty.
In one image, a cutout of the singer with her eyes downcast over a bare shoulder is amplified by a cloudburst of blue gouache overlaid above her head. The image recalls Simpson’s Tulip (2014) and Blue Note (2017) collages, which combine black and white ephemera with hand-drawn watercolor.
In another, Rihanna struts, larger than life, down a sepia-toned bridge, lit up by the city in the background. Superimposed on top of a vintage magazine page, Rihanna wears a black headdress by Maximilian, with feathers exploding from the frame, clad in a strappy bustier, skirt, and stilettos.
“I needed to create images of Rihanna to place within the environments of source materials from my archive,” Simpson said in a statement from Essence. “Knowing Rihanna’s charisma and commanding presence, my effort was then to be as present and prepared as possible to capture her exquisite performance for the camera.”
The issue also features a personal essay by actress and model Zora Simpson Casebere, the daughter of Lorna Simpson and James Casabere, reflecting on how Rihanna’s songs and public presence helped Simpson Casebere get through challenging phases of young adulthood.
“At 13, I was deeply grateful that at a formative time in my life, it was Rihanna’s voice and art that became my portals to so many questions about sexuality, sexual exploration, and sexual autonomy.”
Simpson Casebere helped her mother prepare for the shoot as a stand-in model, so that Simpson could identify the best archival material to amplify Rihanna’s presence on set.
Simpson Casabere says that when the singer first entered the room, she was “mesmerized.”
“She was the very definition of grace, charisma, and influence,” she writes. Rihanna “met the camera with power and possibility—power in how she moved her body through space, and possibility in how she dismantled and moved beyond institutional boundaries.”
On the magazine’s cover, Rihanna stares directly at the camera, her eyes highlighted by bright blue eyeshadow, wearing nothing but a diamond collar necklace. Her face emerges from a crown of 19th-century lithographs of crystals piled up on her head, recalling the images of women under beauty-salon lamps, or donning mountains of curlers to set a hairstyle. The photograph is similar to Simpson’s Earth & Sky #5, #10, #16, and #24 (2016).
So far, social media has been swooning over the Simpson-Rihanna collaboration. Nadirah Simmons, social media manager for Stephen Colbert’s Late Show and founder of the Gumbo, wrote on Twitter, “lorna simpson working with rihanna for essence is indeed my favorite thing this week.”
See more images from ESSENCE January/February 2021, below.
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