Shudu, the model behind the page @shudu.gram is being called one of the most beautiful models on Instagram. Although new on to the scene, Shudu has caused a fair amount of controversy, hinging around the fact that she’s not actually real, but a project from photographer Cameron James-Wilson.
So where did she come from? And what do people think of her? Shudu’s “creator,” Cameron, who creates every image of Shudu with a painstaking level of detail from his computer says this in High Snobiety:
“I’ve been inspired by quite a few people,” says Cameron of his initial conception for Shudu. “But her main inspiration is a South African Princess Barbie. Obviously, her real-life inspirations are pulled from so many different women — Lupita, Duckie Thot and Nykhor — even throwing it back to Alek Wek, who was a massive influence on how I saw beauty growing up.”
“The comments that have been most critical of what I’m doing have been from white women, which was kind of unexpected. I had dark skinned girls and women message me to say that they absolutely love the art that I’m doing,” says Cameron. “This is why I like to do interviews: to show people what’s behind it. This is not trying to take away from anyone but it is trying to add to the standard of beauty that’s being shifted to something much more inclusive.”
The attention for Shudu started to snowball when Rihanna’s beauty brand Fenty reposted an image of her wearing the brand’s lipstick. The image (created without Fenty’s involvement and at the suggestion of Cameron’s younger sister), exceeded the average amount of Instagram likes and engagement almost four-fold with some 222,000 likes compared to an average of around 50,000. At the time, it hadn’t been disclosed whether or not Shudu was a real person; her Instagram bio simply repeated the comment left under her photos: “who is she?”
Following the exposure that comes with a co-sign from Rihanna, Cameron began responding to private messages to clarify that Shudu was an art project.
Of course, posting on social media welcomes a full spectrum of opinions about one’s work, including criticism, too. Some users observed that the manufacturing of a black woman’s image by a photographer — a white male nonetheless — takes up the space that could be filled by an IRL model, and any profit from this comes at the detriment of real careers.
Cameron estimates that a single image takes about three full days work — and that’s not including the weeks of planning. With that timeline and the logistical challenges of cooperating with brands, he doesn’t see digital models replacing real ones anytime soon.