PHOTOGRAPHY - New Years Thoughts and Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell

January 01, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I learned some amazing things about a colleague of mine during 2014.  We talked a little more than we used to, had convos instead of "drive-by" greetings, and learned that we had a lot more in common than I would have thought.  She shared with me a little while ago that one of our convos started a thought process within her, and sparked more discussion with close friends of hers.  Somewhere along the way, I asked her, "So what's the dream?"  It's a question I find myself asking the people I care about... people that I connect with beyond just polite conversation... people that I sense have a bigger picture in mind - that goes beyond the mundane living we so easily get caught up in.  She'd been thinking of hers a lot more recently, and the dream was quite beautiful.

We lost another beautiful dreamer this year, one that I hadn't known much about before now. By her own account, Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell was an ordinary black girl from the fields of South Carolina whose extraordinary looks set her on a path she would have never dreamed of.  But by the time she reached her teenage years, Ophelia had a very real dream in mind.  A dream that was encouraged by others and that she would end up pursuing the rest of her life.

Ophelia DeVore-MitchellOphelia DeVore-MitchellEarly modeling headshot of Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell. Ophelia DeVore-MitchellOphelia DeVore-MitchellEarly modeling headshots of Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell.

Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell was the first black graduate of the Vogue modeling school and, let her tell it, it all came about unbeknownst to her.  But the racism of the modeling world and the negative imagery used to depict Black people in everyday society was something that became all to real to her while close to finishing her schooling at Vogue.  One morning a hispanic girl came into the Vogue school to apply, and caused quit a stir.  it was understood that black and brown girls were not welcome there, but this young Mexican girl either did not know or did not care.  There was a huge ruckus amongst the students and administration that Ophelia couldn't quite understand, but later put together in her own mind.  She would later state the she was just a sheltered, naive girl from the Carolinas that didn't understand why everyone was so upset.  She didn't understand that her fair complexion and european features had allowed her to enter Vogue without question, and that Vogue would never have knowingly allowed her to study there.  Ophelia's dream of modeling had inadvertently broken a barrier to her people that would change the course of modeling forever.

Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell and pupilOphelia DeVore-Mitchell and pupilOphelia DeVore-Mitchell with one of her pupils from the Grace Del Marco Agency. Students of the Grace Del Marco AgencyStudents of the Grace Del Marco Agency Students of the Grace Del Marco Agency in ParisStudents of the Grace Del Marco Agency in ParisOphelia DeVore-Mitchell and several of her successful students from the Grace Del Marco Agency during a business trip to Paris, France, fashion capital of the world.

Ophelia understood the power of imagery.  She dedicated the rest of her life to the mission of promoting positive images of her people in fashion, advertising, and every other form of media she could touch.  She did this initially through her own modeling career, then through her creation of the Grace Del Marco Agency, which became her vehicle for preparing black and brown girls for the world of modeling.  Her efforts would ultimately create a market for non-white models in the U.S. that had previously only existed in European cities, and she continually used her fame and social status to infiltrate every layer of American society.  She embodied her dream, and paved the way for the thousands of women that would follow.

Her papers were officially donated to the MARBL of Emory University, and available right here in Atlanta.

On this New Year's day, I reflect on the life and work of Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell, and how it may impact the things I do in the coming year.  

And I ask you: SO, WHAT'S THE DREAM?


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