From the 16th till the 19th of November, Milan will host the second edition of Photo Vogue Festival, the international photography festival organized by Vogue Italia. It will feature the exhibitions Photo Vogue / Visions, Fashion and Politics at BASE Milano, a show with works by Paolo Roversi at Palazzo Reale, and many other events scattered around the city. We sat down with Alessia Glaviano – Senior Photo Editor at Vogue Italia and L’Uomo Vogue, as well as Web Editor of and founder and organizer of the festival – for a chat about photography, Instagram, and the role of fashion magazines in contemporary society.
How would you describe your work as Photo Editor at a fashion magazine?
Good question. It very much depends on which fashion magazine. Whilst for daily magazines and newspapers the Photo Editor is the person in charge of giving assignments to photographers, in fashion magazines this is usually done either by the editor-in-chief or by the art director. The Photo Editor is more someone who supports this by scouting and suggesting new photographers as well as coming up with ideas for the images themselves. Besides this, there is all the work related to ‘illustrating reality’, which means: you receive an article, you read it and you understand how to illustrate it. This is sometimes done with archive images but you might also choose to commission original ones like.
However, my work for Vogue Italia is not exactly this. I've been working here for the last eighteen years and I’ve had the chance to develop a lot of new projects, so the more institutional aspect is actually only a part of my job, my focus is on other things. Mainly on photography, of course, but I am also web editor for, which means I decide, in accordance with Emanuele Farneti – who is our new director (Franca Sozzani, historic editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia, sadly passed away last year) –, the aesthetic and content layout as well as the general guidelines of the website.
You created the online platform Photo Vogue a few years ago. How and why did this particular project originate?
When we created the website ( I asked myself what could be done specifically for photography, I wanted something different from what already existed. My interest for photography is whole; I am not just interested in fashion photography but in photography as a means of communication in all its possible forms, from fine art photography to reportage to the more experimental aspects. Whilst for print there is a limited amount of space, which is obviously dedicated to fashion photography, when you transition Vogue on to the web you do not have these space limits anymore. So since Vogue is, after all, a brand – and in some ways, a ‘way of life’ –, I thought it could be nice to give voice to all photography genres.
In this same period, phenomena like Flickr and Instagram were exploding and I thought that yes, these were all incredible and beautiful things but, lack of curatorship was a problem. Fred Ritchin (Dean of the International Centre of Photography) has been theorizing for years that there is no such thing as a ‘front page’ on the web. Once, if you wanted information, you would buy a newspaper and it would have a front page with all the most important news. So even if you were just interested in pink hair dyes and blue cats, you would still learn that there had been an earthquake somewhere because it was stated on the front page. On the web, this does not exist. Nobody goes to the front pages of the online editions of newspapers; people read news mostly through links they find on social media and this brings them to build themselves a customized world – in an unaware way this is also dangerous, as we've seen with the rise of Trump, the ‘fake news’, etc.
An incredibly positive aspect of the web is the democratic idea of being able to talk about something or showing your images without having to go through a judging figure who tells you if you have enough worth to be put in their publication. You can do this directly on your own. But at the same time, there is a downside where news is concerned. The downside is that you will find out only what you feel like finding out and not necessarily the most important things for you to find out. Where photography is concerned, this marvellous idea of creating your own audience necessarily leads to also seeing a lot of crap.
The other day I posted on my Instagram a photo by Doisneau and I was asking myself if there was nowadays the possibility for an image to become iconic. I was naturally referring to how fast things go in photography today, to the number of images that are produced, to the fact that they are often disposable and in general to how ephemeral photography has become since it’s stopped being a tangible object. And among the comments underneath, a girl wrote, “Perhaps it depends on the number of likes it gets”. I couldn't believe that someone could actually write something like that and seriously mean it. This is exactly one of the reasons why I started Photo Vogue: online photography needs some kind of curatorship. Having a million likes does not mean you are good, there could just be a million of dick-heads who have liked your photo without having any kind of image culture. Culture has always been something for a few, and now we get shocked by seeing which are the most ‘liked’ things, but it has always been this way.
So Photo Vogue comes with this concept: a platform open to everyone but curated. The idea is that if your images are published there, they are probably also good. The platform has various sections, like the ‘best’ or the ‘pic of the day’, from which I myself scout every day who can I get to do exhibitions, shoot for Vogue Italia, etc. You can consider it a kind of ‘gym’ for talents, a precious resource for the public and a place for scouters who are looking for a young photographer for a new campaign. But with a curatorial aspect, which is what I think was missing in other online platforms.
“An incredibly positive aspect of the web is the democratic idea of being able to talk about something or showing your images without having to go through a judging figure.”
And the Photo Vogue Festival?
The festival also originates from the fact that I am interested in all kinds of photography. I have been travelling around visiting various festivals, fairs, etc., and I was surprised by the fact that there didn't seem to be a fashion photography festival that was backed up by a magazine with a strong credibility for what image is concerned. This gave me the idea of the Photo Vogue Festival, a fashion photography festival open also to other genres. In fact, you will see that especially the collateral events are not just about this genre, but there are a lot of scheduled talks and events by people who come from photojournalism or from art. I wanted something that could create a dialogue between fashion photography and other aspects of art.
Another important aspect of the festival is the theme. Without wanting to sound excessively snobby, once you take off all the aspects related to consumerism (let’s make a million of collections per year in order to sell), fashion also has a very interesting anthropological, social and cultural value. This is something I always say: the way we dress is the first way in which we communicate who we are; what we choose to wear has an influence on us, on our mood, on the way we feel, and on our body language. So fashion as ‘the way I decide to cover myself in order to feel well and at ease’ is a noble concept. Unfortunately, in the last few years, the noblest and most intellectual aspects of fashion have very much demeaned. In general, everything has become more trivial and fashion probably is very much suited for shallowness. I liked the idea of connecting once again fashion to contents and bringing it to the deeper level where it belongs. For this reason, I am dealing every year with transverse themes. Last year it was the Female Gaze, this year it's Fashion and Politics.
Could you tell us more about the exhibitions that we will see during the festival, in particular Fashion and Politics?
There are three exhibitions organized directly by us and various others scattered around the city. For what ours are concerned, one – Photo Vogue / Visions – is the outcome of the scouting done on Photo Vogue by an international jury of incredible professionals, which will also hold talks throughout the festival. This jury is actually another of the reasons why I organize this festival: compared to other forms of photography, the fashion world is often a bit secluded. Having someone like Jimmy Moffat (one of the founders of the New York-based agency Art+Commerce) or Bruce Weber involved, people that pretty much everyone wants to meet, is a way to open it up. I am very proud of this year's selection from Photo Vogue: all the photographers are incredible and I really hope they will continue being successful and obtaining what they deserve.
Then there is the exhibition of Paolo Roversi at Palazzo Reale, which is particularly interesting because it also deals with a less-known Paolo, a more experimental one. It is very beautiful and there will also be a lot of original polaroids on show.
And then there is Fashion and Politics, which can be considered the main theme for this year's festival. There is a question at the origin of the topic: “If I belong to a system, does this mean I cannot criticize it? Why not?” I wanted to show, through the editorials of Vogue Italia, how fashion photography has managed to face some topics that can also be considered as self-critic. By doing this I would also like to open a dialogue that other people can continue since also other magazines have done very powerful self-critic editorials. The exhibition is divided into several ‘chapters’ – consumerism, environmental politics, war, full body plastic surgery, etc. – and it shows how the greatest photographers have dealt with them.
I do not believe in a strict division on what is art and what is commerce. There is always an interconnection, there is no such thing as ‘pure art’ because, just to make an example, what does an artist do? He sells his works to a gallery or to a museum, and the museum is part of the capitalistic system. Everything is part of the capitalistic system, everything, even the so-called protesters. And this is clearly visible: there is a Women's March and, shortly after, a t-shirt which is being sold. Of course, there has to be a line of separation, but the problem is: where do we draw it? For what I am concerned, most of the photographers on the show are not just fashion photographers, they are artists. They are not interested in advertising a dress, the dress has to be functional to the story they want to tell. Lachapelle – before retiring from the fashion scene and dedicating himself to artistic photography only – always said that he preferred his photos to be in a magazine where they could be seen by plenty of people and therefore pass on a message, rather than just hang in a museum. This is also a point of view.
So, in general, the main wish is to stimulate this thought: can we do some self-critique? Can we use the pages of a fashion magazine to talk about other things besides selling clothes?
Photo by Peter Lindbergh Vogue Unique H.c.experimental Milla Jovovich Art Work by Jenny Holzer Truisms 1977 79 Jenny Holzer Member Artists Rights Society Ars Ny V Q01209 D0070 007110 Lindbergh Copia 1.jpg
Peter Lindbergh, Vogue Unique, September 2012
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Bruce Weber, "A letter to True", Hope, November 2003
Which is something that Vogue Italia has somehow always done.
Yes, it has always done this and it continues to do so now with Emanuele (Farneti). For example, we have dedicated the cover of the September Issue to the kiss: we introduced kisses both between two men and between two women and this has brought much controversy. We have the limitation of adopting pretty much always the western point of view and so we now take for granted some things that in the rest of the world actually aren't taken for granted. There are places where being gay still means risking death penalty and there still is a lot of ignorance on this theme, so yes, it is something which we will continue doing.
How do you think fashion photography has changed in these last few years? Have you seen a change in the contents and for what production is concerned?
Well, luckily the definition of beauty is much more inclusive. This originated on social media before extending to more institutional channels. Finally, we see many more black models, and we do not only see sculptural and retouched bodies. For this, we have to thank Instagram and all the new generation of female photographers, among which I like to mention Harley Weir, because she definitely is the one who launched a style that can by now be considered the main aesthetic of these last years. She herself probably has to thank Viviane Sassen (laughs) because, in my opinion, she took a lot from her and this has maybe not been said enough. However, Harley does have a more raw and sensual tone.
There is also a lot more experimentation, especially online and especially in video, but also in photography. Think of Pierre Debusschere, Sølve Sundsbø, Nick Knight – who is still on the front lines for this kind of things. And then there is, of course, the coexistence of various styles that started in the last few years and still exist.
In the era of Instagram and of the vast amount of content, how do you think the profession of photographer has changed?
What has mostly changed is that there isn't a rigid division between who you are, and what you do anymore. If your images were the means to talk about yourself before, now everything is much more on a personal level. This does not just relate to the photographer but to almost everyone. More and more the barriers between the private and the public are breaking. People want to know things about you, they want to know who you are, they want to know you are authentic in what you do, and therefore you must also give them something of yours.
Do you have any advice for those wanting to become photographers?
Well, connecting to what I was saying before, how much of yourself is there in your work? Is it authentic? This is what clicks in the public: understanding that you are what you do, that you are not just pretending. What I always suggest to everyone is to find your own voice: copying from here and there is easy, everybody does it, but in the long term it doesn't pay off. So what you should really concentrate on is shaping your vision. Then don’t get discouraged, listen to the advice of people you admire and don't be a snob for what social media is concerned because they are important platforms. Wanting to be a photographer and not being on Instagram is impossible nowadays.
It is also very important to understand that editing a picture is a very different process according to where you want to put it. An image can have four different edits according to whether it is for a magazine, for an exhibition, for online or for social networks. And then again, for which social networks? Learn how to understand what works better for which platform.
Is there a photographer that you consider emblematic for nowadays?
Like I said before, Harley Weir. And among the newer talents, Nadine Ijewere, which is one of the photographers on show at the Photo Vogue Festival.
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Nadine Ijewere
Last question. You once said, in another interview, that a fundamental part of your work was reading a lot of different things.
What I actually want to say is that there is a qualification, but this qualification is constantly enriched by keeping your eyes open to the world. If you work in photography you can't ignore what is going on in the art world, you can't not go to exhibitions, watch movies, read that new book which is considered a basic for social, cultural or political reasons, etc. Research is essential, and not just in photography. You never stop studying. I would like to have sixty-hour-days in order to dedicate the time I want to reading and to finding out things. Of course this is not possible but it is still important to find a way to do it.
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Self portrait. Studio 9 rue Paul Fort Paris, May 25th 2011 © Paolo Roversi
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Saskia. Paris 2011 © Paolo Roversi
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Natalia. Paris 2009 © Paolo Roversi
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David LaChapelle, Vogue Italia October 2005
Photo by Steven Meisel Vogue Italia August 2006 Que Sera Sera V I00608 D0152 015305 Meisel Copia 1.jpg
Steven Meisel, Vogue Italia August 2006
Photo by Tim Walker Vogue Italia June 2001 Love V I00106 D0200 020101 Walker Copia 1.jpg
Tim Walker, Vogue Italia June 2001
Photo by Tim Walker Vogue Unique September 1999 Couture Delivery V Q09909 D0192 019301 Walker 1.jpg
Tim Walker, Vogue Unique September 1999
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Daniel Jack Lyons
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Alexandra Von Fuerst
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R Michael Walker
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Clara Giaminardi
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Supranav Dash
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Giovanni Corabi