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I have been very public about the attempted sale by Art & Commerce and Rafael Pavarotti of a partly naked image of me. I did so since I wanted my peers, friends, and family to understand how I was being treated in real-time and how it made me feel. I also did not believe in the dialogue that would have taken place in private given my agent and I being kept in the dark about it. There was also an initial urgency since the sale was ongoing.

Now that is no longer the case I can step back and observe the past week and digest the many things that have happened. It has been interesting to write so much and discuss the many dynamics that have played out in this whole debacle. But I am also aware that I cannot write faithfully to the standard I’d want to when I am so affected throughout the developments of the situation.

I primarily want to seek consultation to make sure the agency and photographer will respect the images of me from a legal perspective. That will take time through dialogue. The agency has still not responded to the queries my agent sent. I won’t make any updates until there is something significant. Which is essentially when they decide to act professionally and respond.

I had what I believe are insincere apologies from the photographer. I think they only came about as his hand was forced through the public pressure. I am still sat with unanswered questions. But now I’ve moved on from that demand. I no longer consider him a friend or acquaintance. The law will protect me from image exploitation instead of any good faith in him.

Thank you so much if you reached out, offered advice and contacts through this time. It has been overwhelming. I think in the future I will be able to look back at this period with fondness at having stood up for myself and hopefully show others in the fashion industry they can too.

A x

Don't Call Me 'rose' (2022): Text

Don't Call Me 'rose' (2022)

Update on May 31st 2022: Direct contact from photographer has been made to me. Email contact to my model agent has been made from the agency. I still have unresolved questions regarding what happened. I do not consider this resolved.

Update on May 29th 2022. The image titled 'Can I call you rose? (2021)' by Rafael Pavarotti can not be seen for public sale by Art & Commerce anymore as of May 28th 2022. I still do not know if the image is or has been sold to anyone. The photographer has not responded to direct communication I have made. They have not responded to the email sent by my UK agent at XDirectn on May 28th 2022. The essay below was written on May 26th, hence the discussion of the image being for sale which it can now no longer seen to be.

I have never felt like something intangible and priceless, has been taken from me when making an image as a model - until yesterday. I am a Black woman in her late twenties living in London. I shot the image I’m speaking about for a fashion story in a British magazine, unpaid. I did not sign a release form. A celebrated male photographer shot it whilst the magazine’s editor-in-chief styled it.

The image in which I’m partly naked, is now being sold. I found out about the sale on Instagram yesterday. I’ve written this essay about my experiences of making the image. I’m hoping this is a conversation starter about the culture we want to cultivate in the fashion industry and what a Black model feels like behind-the-scenes during the process of making an image and after the fact.

There are many factors at play about what I discuss. The implicit ownership of copyright deferred to photographers when it comes to an image, the ethics in how it is then used by them, but more fundamentally to me, trust, and what we do with the trust someone gives to you when making a work. I believe I had consented to one particular thing – an artwork in a magazine editorial – but it has now become a commodity for private sale by the photographer and their agency without their seeking my consultation if I’d be interested in this development.

This whole scenario has made me wonder; is visible representation of Black women progress when it may be built on the construct of a process that does not feel equitable to the subject, who is me in this scenario? Is this progress or regression? I want this culture to change so that younger Black models, frankly any models, may not feel this way or go through this experience. I want this culture to change so that people will be just as interested to hear our perspective and not only photograph and own images of us. I hope this will begin an honest and sincere conversation. But more importantly also bring about accountability, more transparency, and change.  I really thank anyone who takes the time to listen to my perspective of what is happening.

Written by Awut Atak


Sometimes, as a model you make images, which go beyond the remit of the professional task in front of you. You take a leap of faith to make something honest and true. Because you trust the person taking the image. At a shoot for an editorial magazine spread last autumn that is what I thought I did. I now believe I was wrong to do that.

I had just returned from Berlin to live back in London, to complete my masters in architecture that I had paused during the pandemic. The dates worked out perfectly, I had only been back a couple days. I shoot as a model occasionally, but it always feels peripheral to my life trajectory. I am older than most models and don’t consider it a full-time job.

There were eight models in total. The shoot was even with some other South-Sudanese models. They were newly arrived in Europe and much younger than me - some by almost a decade. They were on short-term visas that allowed them to travel like so few with non-western passports -- especially African passports -- to work in other fashion capitals like Paris and Milan; to have their image taken. It was touching to hear their journeys to London and new careers, how they were finding their feet, how it was their first time in a cold country. I felt optimistic for their careers since we were all on this shoot. I also felt protective too, some in their teens and quite far away from home. All the models casted were Black.

We began the day stood round in a circle with a sage-burning exercise. I think we were doing this to clear the air of negativity. I know the photographer. I trust him. We are shooting one of the most celebrated couture collections of the season for one of the most celebrated fashion magazines in existence. The clothing is beautiful, black, monochrome. They hang in a brilliant-white studio, displayed on two aisles of racks, whilst the jewellery and shoes are on a centred table, splayed out. The shooting takes place in a black-box adjacent concealed behind draped curtains.

Before the shoot, there’s make-up, nails and hair. The team are capable and very talented. I know some of them too, we catch up. The image that will be, is slowly constructed on me and the other models. Features are sharpened in some places, blurred and muted in others. Nails are added, a sharp and pointed shape in a gloss black. Our hair is groomed. Then the clothes come. Stylists help put on the runway looks I’ve seen on my phone. They’re elegant, they are fine, and beautiful to wear. I shoot two outfits; they are refined, and make me feel refined, and also surprisingly very in control as they are powerful, fitted and pointed garments, tailored and structured to the body.

At some point I am asked by someone if I’m comfortable shooting nude. I have never done that before. I have never intended to or knew of this intention before the shoot. I think about it. I think about it for a while as other models are shot. I decide to trust the photographer and his process. Because I know him personally and could consider him a friend. I say yes. I believe I am consenting to making a fashion editorial print image for this fashion magazine only.  I am of the belief I am about to be shot from behind only, with some roses.

However, when I enter there are a bed of white cut roses all over the ground. I am expected to lie down. I hadn’t expected this. I’m completely naked now, as my robe is taken, and I go down to the floor. I am not very comfortable. Then I have white roses, artfully – tactfully – to cover my nipples and further down. The photographer starts shooting. I keep asking if they can see my nipples or lower down as I can’t tell from this angle. I don’t remember feeling very assured by the responses. We continue to shoot. We continue shooting for what feels like only three to five minutes, then it’s all over.

After the shoot ends, I go back into the closed set, to say goodbye. I know the photographer after all. I go in, and see they have already printed the images, pinned up, in the style of the magazine layout. I don’t feel welcome seeing this preview, but I feel emboldened by the fact it’s my naked body included. I want to see it. Me. I’m not so convinced of the image yet when I see it, but I do relent that it is a beautiful image; that I accept the art we have made together on the specific terms I believed were in place, and I say goodbye.

The images are monochromatic black-and-white shots with some grey tones from the clothing and reflections against skin from the set lighting. All of us model’s black skin appears darker in tone to me, as if in shadows, rendering us somewhat homogenous black figurines. In the picture without the clothes, I look blacker than I have ever seen myself – or I find I am in real life -- juxtaposed against the white roses. Maybe it’s because there is so much skin on display. It is something beautiful, but it is not quite an image true to me. I quickly bury this notion.

Months later the magazine edition comes out. The images are as beautiful, as they were the day I saw them on set. I share the two first images I took, but never the naked image publicly. I don’t feel comfortable sharing it. I am however proud of the image. I think I will be happy to see myself this beautiful when I am older. I think we had made a piece of art together. But still, I don’t share it. I even ask my agent in France to remove it from my portfolio. It is very intimate and special to me, a moment of trust with someone. I would love to have a copy of my own, but I believe that there is a distinct, invisible line in the sand, which does not permit me to ask this photographer, to share a copy with me.

More months later, I bump into the photographer in a park. We exchange platitudes. We continue our respective journeys. It’s very brief and I feel, bordering on awkward. I don’t remember a mention of what is to follow.

Two weeks and a half weeks later (yesterday) I am scrolling on Instagram Stories. I see he has shared something from his agency on Instagram, the image, that image of the bed of roses, me, lying naked on the ground and surrounded. I go to the link shared. They are selling seven editions and two APs (artist proofs) of this image of me. I google AP to know what that actually stands for. My stomach turns at this. It is the first time I am hearing of it. The days prior the photographer has had their debut auction of an image, and it sells for tens of thousands. We are both in our twenties.

I feel physically sick at what is happening.

I talk to two friends about what is happening. With the second, I start crying about it. I can’t look at the image anymore. The image, in my mind, was built on a bridge of trust I had given to the photographer, and I believed to be used for this editorial magazine only. No money was exchanged between us. I was not spoken of their intentions to sell this image of me. I begin to wonder if it was always their intention to sell the image. That trust is falling like a house of cards.

As a fashion model, you relinquish your image for periods of times, for specific purposes, at a price. Usage rights… the territories it can be shown… in which type of media such as digital or print… these are all factors and terms that are agreed upon when you work, since, if we let a brand use our image forever, we’d eventually be out of a job. This was different to me though. This was no longer Awut, the model, this was Awut, the person. I had made myself vulnerable to take a kind of picture I don’t do, no longer in the clothes of the shoot, because I trusted the person who was taking the image to have my best interests in place. I did so because they were a person of colour like me too and I knew them before the shoot. Hence why I said yes to be depicted in such a vulnerable naked position. This trust did, and does not have a price. I could never want proceeds from something like this.

I thought I was making a collaborative image of art with someone I trust for the magazine only. I find it interesting that the only image being sold from the collection of close to a dozen evocative images taken that day is the one with the subject without the coveted couture clothes and jewellery. There is no material adornment. It is just me and some flowers. I now cannot even look at the image that I only days before felt empowered by, because the premise of empowerment has been stripped from it, by the fact that a moment of trust and my body – I stress from my point of view -- is now being profiteered to unknown bidders at an undisclosed price, the profits I presume to be shared with photographer and agency and perhaps others, without anyone thinking I would like to know beforehand. That this would be of interest to the subject. I now feel like the image represents a moment of exploitation and degradation of not only my body, but my trust.

I wish I were not writing this, as it could affect me in many ways, but my integrity is worth more than that. This is my subjective truth. I can’t keep something that has shaken me to the core like this be internalised, because simply I don’t think what has taken place here is right. I hope the intersections of race, gender and class come to the foreground in something that is quite complicated.

I’ll end by asking; can we get to a place where a photographer does not sell an image including a subject without seeking their thoughts on it? No less, a male photographer with an image of a woman? Can there be a new ethical way of making and using an image, particularly images of Black women, in 2022? I understand he is an artist and that he has his work, but is there a level of human decency that can be assumed, and would it have taken a lot for him to call me? Or tell me when he saw me in person?

Published May 27th, 2022

Don't Call Me 'rose' (2022): Text
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