Isaac West, a fashion designer and the creative director of the project, collaborated with photographer Haythem Lafhaj on the photo series. West was born in Liberia and raised in Ghana, and wanted to show how diverse black skin tones are.
One of the pictures in the series features five black female models, each with a different skin tone. The woman with the lightest skin is placed at the front and center of the group, which some took as an act of favoritism – even though West insists it wasn’t.
‘As black people, we have something very unique about us — our skin tone. It comes in all different shades, and some people sometimes use that against us. It doesn’t matter if she’s dark, she’s brown, she’s light brown, or she has fair skin. We all are black and we all are one,’ he told Yahoo Beauty.
His photo series showcases the models in different setups, posing in front of bright yellow or blue backdrops.
One of the pictures shows the five women sitting on the ground, their arms and hands around each other. In that photo, one of the darker-skinned women is at the center of the image.
Yet, some of West’s followers on Instagram, where he shared the pictures earlier this month, focused on one of the group snaps, in which the lighter-skinned model is given a prominent position.
‘Why did the light girl go in front???’ one person asked.
‘They are all beautiful black and black mix women,’ someone else wrote. ‘Didn’t have to centralize the lightest skin one… How typical .’
Another follower wondered: ‘Why is the lightest skin girl in the front like that?’
West, who said he did the shoot to encourage black women to embrace their skin tones and love their appearances, explained that he chose to have the lighter-skinned model pose in this position in order to show that people with black heritage can have lighter skin too – not to imply that lighter skin was preferable.
‘It is just so amazing that her skin is so fair yet she’s black,’ he said.
Other viewers responded positively to West’s work, with one of them writing: ‘Why are people getting upset with this post because a light skinned girl is in front?
‘The whole point is their black and black mixed women, none of them are “white”, but people are still upset? I think this is honestly a really cool post [in my opinion].’