VICE Sparks an Uproar After Publishing Staged Female Author Suicide Photos


VICE Magazine has withdrawn from it Web site a photo series depicting famous female authors committing suicide, after the piece drew widespread criticism for being “breathtakingly tasteless.”

The photo series, dubbed “Last Words,” was created by photographer Annabel Mehran using models to depict famous female writers in the act of ending it all. Scenes include poet Sylvia Plath kneeling in front of an oven, Dorothy Parker holding her bleeding wrists to a sink and historical writer Iris Chang holding a gun to her mouth (we’ve blurred out the subjects of the original photos).


The photos, part of a fiction issue focusing on female writers, were presented as something of a fashion spread, with captions identifying designers and prices for the model’s attire, including the pair of tights a stand-in for Taiwanese writer Sanmao is preparing to use as a noose.


The magazine pulled the photo spread from its site shortly after it appeared, offering the following explanation:

Our main goal is to create artful images, with the fashion message following, rather than leading. 
“Last Words” was created in this tradition and focused on the demise of a set of writers whose lives we very much wish weren’t cut tragically short, especially at their own hands. We will no longer display “Last Words” on our website and apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended.

Rival culture site Jezebel condemned VICE (and republished the photos), declaring: “It’s almost breathtakingly tasteless. Suicide is not a fashion statement.”

VICE, which bills itself as a “The Definitive Guide to Enlightening Information” and is backed by Viacom and other major media companies, distributes free print editions in 28 countries as well as running major Web operation. Among other things, the magazine is known for sponsoring the basketball tour that introduced former NBA star Dennis Rodman to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

(via via Resource Magazine)

Image credits: Photographs (blurred out) by Annabel Mehran

  • Mark Wheadon

    I wonder where Annabel would put these images on her web site? Under ‘lifestyle’ perhaps? Wow — talk about getting carried away with what you’re doing and not looking at the bigger picture…

  • gfi

    this is very good art congratulations to the magazine for publishing it, but unfortunately they were forced to delete the images.

  • Christian DeBaun

    I wonder if the VICE employees gathered in Conference Room B4 for the weekly “brainstorming” session of this idea, were high on leopard tranquilizer when they thought this up.

  • Vlad Dusil

    Why are depictions of true events so shocking and off-putting?

    Suicides happen. Is it come sort of faux pas to address it in images?

  • mlieberman85

    VICE lost their last bit of credibility when they knowingly aided and abetted a criminal on the run from the law during the whole McAfee fiasco.

  • Mark Wheadon

    Many shocking things happen. That doesn’t make them any less off-putting or shocking. Showing someone in the process of killing themselves and annotating it with fashion tips is hardly “addressing” suicide.

  • Rob S

    So if there were actual photos of the act would that be ok?

    Opinions on suicide are always strong but there is not disputing that it is the ultimate expression of self determination. We all die. Deciding the time and nature of your death is not completely unreasonable.

  • Vlad Dusil

    I missed the part about the fashion references. Tasteless indeed.

  • IAR

    Maybe VICE should have gone with “Photographer Gives Greek Sculptures a Hipster Makeover Using Photoshop” series or the Pulitzer winner series “Photographer Challenges Social Norms by Touching Strangers in New York City”

  • fast eddie

    Hahaha, you win the internet today!

  • Yaddayaddayadda


    Do some editing for chrissakes…

  • durrson

    What’s disgusting, is the fact that the work was pulled. Now you may think I’m insensitive but isn’t the point of these photographs to help highlight suicide and make people think? – Before anyone says these pictures can become a trigger for suicide or self harm, remember that a simple photo of a flower can also trigger episodes.

    If we are to hide suicide, let’s also hide child abuse, animal cruelty, the holocaust, need I go on?.. What has happened here, clearly is the censorship of an idea and being told to retract a powerful message with good intentions.

    It’s wrong, and I support the original campaign.

  • Joe

    Gah.. when the fck have Vice ever given a sht about what is PC or not, thats why I LIKE it, thats why I go there. My mother Committed Suicide two years ago, Im a grown-up and I understand it and own it, and for a mag to make a art-spread on it is their own deal. It doesn’t effect me. Not in the Slightest.
    Put the spread back in, you are creative counter culture-ists and people like me need to know that you exist to ruffle the feathers of those that think they are already ruffling feathers.
    Just fcking do it.

  • Burnin Biomass

    Even though I don’t particularly like the images (actually, the hanging one has its merits), I agree that they should still be running them. They knew this was going to be controversial (I mean the reaction some had is hardly a surprise), this wasn’t a unintentional mistake, they did it to be a bit (or a lot) shocking… so stand by it. If you are going to be edge, then be edgy, dont try to have both sides.

  • Ezmo

    Running these censored photos is even more misguided than the original artist’s work. This is a conversation about art and not a depiction of actual death, by censoring you draw the photos even closer to verisimilitude since that’s how they’d likely appear on non 4chan boards. Vice shouldn’t have pulled the photo series, it may have been tasteless but it’s still a fictitious recreation. If they were real photos of an author committing suicide they would have won a World Press Photo award.

  • snapshot1

    I’m sorry but this is far from ruffling feathers – it’s such unimaginative faux-controversy without any enlightened thought. You want to honor these amazing women writers – honor their work. You want to “talk” about suicide – talk about suicide. But to put these women in a position of weakness in a stylistically hipster-coolness imitation of real people’s last moment – and on top of it selling something – well that is just stupid. And yet they got what they wanted, people talking about a “controversy”, people are such repetitive suckers. This is so far from “the edge”.

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for the feedback. Our goal is simply to report on this story rather than lure pageviews by republishing a controversial photo series. You can find the original photos through that Jezebel link if you’d like :)

  • lidocaineus

    This wasn’t just “art”; there was a significant ad component to the images – you don’t list the fashion your models are wearing in something like this unless you’re being paid specifically for that. That’s pretty tasteless and crass, and they definitely deserved the criticism they got.

  • lidocaineus

    I find it disturbing that you’ve been downvoted – who in their right mind thinks adding fashion advertising to these sorts of images is appropriate?

  • lidocaineus

    It has less to do with the depicted act (after all, their are entire books dedicated to how to commit suicide), and more to do with the crass fashion additions. Or did you just skim over that part?

    Minus the fashion aspect, it’s still not all that compelling as art, as it speaks nothing to suicide other than voyeuristic nature of the photos.

  • lidocaineus

    You support using suicide as a method to sell fashion and clothing?

    The suicide aspect is the least disturbing part of these images. And without the fashion part, these images speak nothing to the topic of suicide – it doesn’t make you think about it, there are no angles explored within the images. It’s exploitive.

    Now if it were just that, I’d say, “These are dumb, but let them print them.” With the fashion part though? Disgusting. Good for pulling them.

  • lidocaineus

    I think almost everyone here that’s decrying the censorship is missing the point. This isn’t about suicide – this is about using suicide to sell fashion. That’s the part that’s horrible and deservedly received criticism.

    If they had been depictions of suicide this would’ve been a different story. There are plenty of images and books out there on HOW to kill yourself, so it’s not like this would’ve been that controversial without the fashion aspect. It in fact probably would’ve been fairly pedestrian, as the images say nothing new about suicide, view it from a new perspective, or prompt discussion. They’re just exploitive. But even then, I wouldn’t have considered them censored-worthy, just done with poor taste and no real meaning.

    With the fashion aspect though? Yank.

  • Rob S

    ok, I am may reaching a bit here but I took the “fashion” part as a comment on how we often value the work of a dead artist more than a live one. Add in a tragic death and their work seems to have even more value. I didnt think they were really trying to sell stuff.

  • lidocaineus

    If they were doing that I’d give it way more credit. Unfortunately they were using it as a typical fashion spread combined with an article on the writers’ deaths. Extremely distasteful.

  • DamianM

    True the site that wanted to make this a big controversy didn’t blur anything.
    And they where the ones against it.
    This is a Photography blog and I believe the photographs should not be censored. We don’t live in china.

  • DamianM

    This was talking about there lives the whole issue was devoted to women artist. This was a very important aspect of there lives. Some even became famous because of that decision they made.

  • Michael D

    For you it’s about the shame of selling fashion. For me it’s the shame of people being more concerned about how fashion is sold being than bothering to be upset about a President using drones to murder innocent children and families in Pakistan, etc..

    In comparison, worrying about ANY facet of fashion seems so. . . petty.

  • durrson

    I did read the original article, and I’m sorry for you that my opinion differs from yours. I do understand these issues, my comment was in response to the magazine spread, not in response to helping someone in need. It’s arrogant of you to suppose I don’t understand how to help people when you’ve only read about 100 words from me.

    I’m not sure if you read VICE or not but you should know they typically showcase art photography alongside their fashion editorials. This whole issue of VICE centred on female writers with lots of articles, projects, interviews and of course ‘Last Words’. In context with the entire publication, Last Words is a small portion of what VICE published. Known to be edgy with their fashion articles it’s highly appropriate to use hard hitting messages when combined with photography. I don’t believe the photographer Annabel Mehran has trivialized suicide at all. In fact, I consider the photographs a tribute to the original authors.

    Of course, that is my opinion if you will allow it Lidocaineus.

    It obviously depends on your point of view but if you take the time to examine the photographs, you’ll see a themed set, depicting the
    moments immediately prior and after the act of killing oneself. I see contemplation on the models face, I see the environment in which they are placed and I’m left wondering what was in the minds of those successful business women which lead them to take their own lives.

    Now, I’m talking specifically about the photographs, as I was in my first comment and you need photographs to sell fashion. Why should dramatic, thought provoking photographs be limited to exhibitions, or only made available to photography peers. I think the fashion world would be pretty pissed if they ‘weren’t allowed’ to raise awareness or get risqué with their ideas. They’ve been doing that for years.

  • lidocaineus

    You typed 100 words? Then I’m judging you on that. If you want me to judge you on something else, include more words. In addition it’s insulting that you assume I’m not well versed on VICE – I attended their launch party years ago. I’m well versed in how they operate. Or maybe I didn’t. It’s totally arbitrary and beside the point.

    But it doesn’t matter how edgy they are – there’s still a line between edgy and exploitation. If the photos were there without the fashion part, they’d still be mediocre in my opinion, but they made you think. That’s fine – you interpreted that differently. They’d also not be worth censoring. But then you use their pain and confusion and you sell products. THAT is the offensive parts. By your logic, we could take photos of dead children in Syria and sell fast food by showing what they just ate. Or take tortured prisoners at Guantanamo and sell hairstyles. Can you do it? Of course. Is it appropriate and respectful? No.

  • Catherine

    Petapixel should be ashamed for making the decision to censor these works of art. Congratulations to the artist who made them.