Rihanna and the Art of the Pregnancy Portrait Shoot

With a series of photos, Rihanna and ASAP Rocky take a modern phenomenon to a new level.

A report by Vanessa Friedman for The New York Times.

The art form known as the “celebrity pregnancy photo shoot” has a new winning entry. Rihanna and ASAP Rocky have announced their first child with the release of a street shot by Miles Diggs, a.k.a., Diggzy, a.k.a., the 20-something photographer named by Vogue as “fashion’s favorite paparazzi.”

The series of pictures, posted on Instagram and sold to a variety of media outlets, including this one, feature Rihanna in a long pink vintage Chanel puffer coat with jeweled gold buttons from the fall 1996 collection over extra-long ripped jeans puddling in the street and held up by a gold and leather Chanel chain belt. Her stomach, framed by the coat, which is closed by a single button at the breastbone, is covered only by a jewel-encrusted costume jewelry cross on a long pearl necklace, also by Chanel. Her hands are tucked into the pockets of her jeans, her hair in loose waves. ASAP Rocky is wearing leather pants, a Carhartt denim jacket, hooded varsity sweater and black beanie.

In one photo they are strolling along a Harlem street, seemingly under the Riverside Drive Viaduct, holding hands; in another he is kissing her on the crown of the head, creating a loving circle of two. In neither does there seem to be anyone else around.

(There is what looks like only a sprinkling of snow on their hair, suggesting the pictures were taken before the weekend’s snowstorm and freezing temperatures, and released on a planned schedule.)

The framing is carefully calculated in its pretend intimacy, both off-duty and on message. “Caught” so that you get the sense you are getting a peek into a private moment, though in a way that has been entirely choreographed down to the vintage diamond signet ring on her finger.

In this, the Rihanna snap is the latest stage in a photographic tradition that can be traced back to the Demi Moore pregnancy cover on Vanity Fair in 1991.

That portrait, featuring the actress cradling her distended stomach, nude save for a giant diamond ring, was so scandalous when released that it was banned from certain stores despite being mailed with a paper covering. The shot started an image-making trend that extended through Cindy Crawford, Britney Spears, Ciara and Gigi Hadid, though all of them were topped by Beyoncé’s 2017 pregnant-while-wearing-lingerie-in-a-bower baby-bump photo shoot. That snap set a new standard for managing the public pregnancy reveal, becoming not only Instagram’s most-liked photo of the year when it reached 11.1 million likes, but also the first of an entire series of high-concept maternity photo shoots dropped by the star.

Now Rihanna has brought the tradition back down to earth, connecting it to two contemporary phenomena. First, the evolution of street-style photography from guerrilla reportage to a new kind of fashion image-making (the visual equivalent of casual Friday); and second, the increasing use of social media as an exercise in image-building. It is a way for celebrities to communicate with their fan base and community, and offer up apparently personal and unvarnished glimpses of their lives in as varnished and controlled a way as possible.

Indeed, Mr. Diggs, whose signature is highlighting his subjects against a black and white background so that they pop into focus, told Vogue that part of his success was his desire to depict his subjects in their best light, and his willingness to refrain if he surprises them on an off day.

Unlike the Moore tradition, which often involved being as naked as possible, or the Beyoncé picture, which dipped into art history, Rihanna chose a look and composition that seems like a sly nod to fashion itself — specifically, Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover, in 1988, which featured the Israeli model Michaela Bercu wearing old Guess jeans and a Christian Lacroix jacket with an elaborately jeweled cross on the front, her hair windblown and wavy, laughing on the street.

At that time it was considered revolutionary: a way to let the stuffiness out of Vogue, to demonstrate a rawer, high-low era in fashion and to herald the advent of a new power at the top.

At this time, it underscores Rihanna’s facility at taking ownership of establishment imagery and revising it to her own ends. Not to mention her ability to move product, both of which have helped transform her from mere fashion icon to billionaire entrepreneur.

Already, according to the online shopping site Lovethesales, searches for “pink padded coats” increased 200 percent in the hours after the photos were posted; for “ripped bluejeans,” 175 percent; and for “pearl necklaces,” 80 percent. (ASAP Rocky also caused a spike for men’s sweater vests, leather trousers and Carhartt jackets.)

All of which suggests that when it comes to maternity style — not to mention baby kits — this may be just the beginning.

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