TIME Behind the Photos

The Photo That Inspired Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 Fashion Show

A 20-year-old photograph reappears in an unexpected context

It was in southern Rwanda, April 1995, when British photographer Paul Lowe made this picture. Thousands of Hutus had crammed into a small area of the Kibeho camp, one day after Tutsi soldiers had massacred thousands of people there.

This week, that photograph reappeared in an unexpected context: the invitation to Kanye West’s fashion show.

Yeezy Season 3 invitation on Kanye West's twitter featuring Paul Lowe's image from the Rwandan Genocide.
Yeezy Season 3 invitation on Kanye West’s twitter featuring Paul Lowe’s image from the Rwandan Genocide.

In a moment where fashion, art, music and street style collided, West unveiled his new collection, Yeezy Season 3, in conjunction with the launch of his latest album, The Life of Pablo. West collaborated once again with Italian conceptual artist Vanessa Beecroft, best known for her “living paintings.” The two artists, who first began working together in 2008, presented a fashion show within a post-apocalyptic scene inspired by Lowe’s photograph.

In West’s fashion show, male and female models, clothed in the singer’s new line of sportswear, were washed in the haze of smoke machines and spotlights, channeling the gloom and despair of the original photograph. The performance used the power of stillness along with subtle movements that ranged from somber and weary. Toward the end of the show, some models raised their fists in a symbol of defiance, while West acted as master of ceremonies, performing, directing and emceeing for nearly an hour.

Lowe, who made the image used on Kanye’s invitation more than two decades ago, welcomed its reemergence. “When my work gets picked by other cultural forms and used to explore the edges of what social politics are about, it’s quite interesting,” he tells TIME.

The photographer says he didn’t know exactly how his picture would be used beyond the promotional posters and invitations that were distributed ahead of the show, but “if people want to find things in my work that is relevant and useful to contemporary issues and contemporary politics, that’s great,” he says. “And the fact that an image that is 20 years old can still resonate today is indicative that there’s still a lot to do.”

Paul Moakley is the Deputy Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @paulmoakley.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitterand Instagram @olivierclaurent.

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