Photograph by Nadine Ijewere.

With Rihanna and Deana Lawson, GARAGE Confronts the Human Future

Editor-in-Chief Mark Guiducci on meeting cover photographer Deana Lawson for the first time.

by Mark Guiducci
Sep 7 2018, 7:43pm

Photograph by Nadine Ijewere.

As with several past issues of GARAGE, this one began with a discussion about the future. Sitting around a Paris living room in February, our editors were talking about Donna Haraway’s 1984 “A Cyborg Manifesto,” copies of which were left on our seats at the Gucci show, as well as Ian Cheng’s recent exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries featuring an AI “species” called BOB. (Cheng has described his work as “art with a nervous system.”)

It quickly became clear that we weren’t just talking about technology this season—about the possibilities offered by automation and improved materials—but about anxiety, too. For every new techno-fabulous fabric, like the ones employed by John Galliano at Maison Margiela that transform his clothes with the flash of an iPhone, there was a battalion of Calvin Klein firemen, marching straight off the pages of Ray Bradbury to tell us how to dress for the apocalypse. Doesn’t it seem possible that we have already written ourselves out of the equation—traded our autonomy for algorithms—but are too distracted by operatic politics to notice?

With that in mind, we dedicated Issue 15 to an idea we’re calling the Human Future, concentrating on the ways in which creative people are affirming the relevance of humanity while reckoning with both its precarious situation and mortal flaws. It’s an affirmation of faith in ourselves and our power. To me, that’s not Luddism—it’s optimism.

We looked first to photographer Deana Lawson, whose sublime portraits of Rihanna appear on our cover and inside, starting on page 134. I met Deana during a studio visit just before the 2017 Whitney Biennial, which catapulted her to prominence, and have never forgotten the quiet reverence with which she speaks about her subjects, most of whom are descendants of the African diaspora. In a conversation with Arthur Jafa that accompanies her portfolio, Deana puts it this way: “People are creative, godlike beings. I don’t feel like we carry ourselves like that all the time, or that we know how miraculous we are.” I assume Rihanna is aware of her divine gifts, but she’s also perhaps our most human of pop idols—unguarded, vital, perfect in her imperfections—making her the consummate subject for Deana. These portraits represent the artist’s first experience working in a fashion context.

Deana takes photos on large- and medium format film cameras, and a number of other artists we collaborated with are equally committed to the traditions of analog or handmade processes. They include Sheila Hicks, who works in textiles; Ann Agee and Francesca DiMattio, who make ceramics; and even, in a way, Taryn Simon, whose installation "A Cold Hole" (page 158) is nothing if not deeply corporeal.

Other projects in the issue engage more directly with the onslaught of tech. We have a fashion story that sees CGI model Lil Miquela photobombing paparazzi shots of yore; a profile of Bina48, the world’s first humanoid robot designed to resemble an African-American person; a prescient essay by the late science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, who asks why some people represent “humanity” more than others; and a report by Sarah Nicole Prickett on deepfakes, the AI-powered, face-swapping videos that prove we’ve only seen the tip of the fake news iceberg.

Something else to note: Every imagemaker who picked up a camera for Issue 15 is a woman (and those women took us to Nigeria, Sweden, California, Tokyo, and Harlem, among other locations). We’re not the first or only publication to make that choice this season, but for us it was nonetheless a worthwhile idea. The takeaway? The future is indeed female. But the future is also robotic, artificially intelligent, global, a great responsibility, and a huge mess. In other words: The future is only human.

Deana Lawson