Renewing the Role of Women and Fashion in Photography

With Photo Vogue Festival, Alessia Glaviano not only means to open the doors of fashion photography to the public, but also redefine its role - and that of women - in the conversation about relevant contemporary issues.

© Fabio Vittorelli. Vanessa Beecroft show at Palazzo Reale from Photo Vogue Festival 2016  

Photo Vogue Festival is rapidly growing under the guidance and vision of Alessia Glaviano, who is among the judging panel of the PHM 2017 Women Photographers Grant. The festival's second edition, held in Milan, Italy between 15 - 19 November will host a projection of all the grant's awarded projects, and exhibitions and talks where fashion photography will meet other genres and influences. PHmuseum Director Giuseppe Oliverio went to talk with her about the ideas behind the festival, and the role of women and fashion in the photography industry.

Ciao Alessia, let’s start with Photo Vogue Festival. What motivates you in giving life to this new initiative?

The festival is answering the growing demand for physical spaces where people can meet and discuss. More specifically, we wanted to create an event where fashion and more artistic photography could reach the public, also thanks to Vogue’s international network and reputation. You know the fashion and art environment are often quite closed and selective. With Photo Vogue Festival we aim to open the doors of this world and make certain figures, photographers, editors, curators, more accessible. At the same time we wish to bring together fashion photography with other genres like photojournalism and documentary photography. I think that sharing reciprocal influences and ideas could be very beneficial. I am very glad that the reception of the first edition has been really positive, overcoming our expectations, and I am excited for the upcoming one.

Do you think there is a necessity to talk in a more sophisticated way about fashion photography and fashion in general?

Yes, I think it is important. Too often fashion in considered as something superficial, futile. While I believe that fashion is a very relevant element of our culture. How we dress is a form of expression and there can be an elevated way to talk about this language. With this festival I aim to give back a certain dignity to fashion and the way we discuss about it, also thanks to our guests and their talks. It’s a controversial topic: I have the feeling that certain people have a chip on their shoulders and consider dedicating time to your look as something narcissistic – while if you think about it, everybody cares about their look and it is nothing to feel ashamed of. There is nothing superficial about it. I know that having 400,000 new collections a year is a bit absurd. But we shall differentiate between consumerism and the cultural aspects beyond (and driven by) fashion.

© Fabio Vittorelli. A collective show at BASE, Milan, during Photo Vogue Festival 2016  

What are you planning for this new edition? How will you renovate this debate?

One of the themes we’ll be discussing is Fashion and Politics, opening up a question related to what I was telling you: why fashion shall not participate in the conversation about relevant and crucial issues? I think there are many subjects that could be discussed in the editorial pages of fashion magazines, clearly within certain limits and a certain dignity. Then there will be a special show on Paolo Roversi’s work that will feature many personal unpublished projects and original Polaroids, which support the idea of going back to the photographic object. I find Paolo’s work very interesting: the way he photographs, the use of the large format. It’s a meditative approach if you want and I am really glad to show his work at Palazzo Reale. We will also present an exhibition of photos from our online platform – Photo Vogue – selected by an international jury of recognised professionals such as Bruce Weber, Vince Aletti, James Estrin, Michael Famighetti, Nathalie Herschdorfer, Paul Moakley, Jimmy Moffat, Azu Nwagbogu, Judith Thurman, that reflects the polyhedric nature of Photo Vogue.

That’s great. I’m really interested in the way you connect your online platform, featuring the work of 130,000 photographers, and the festival. What is the relationship between them?

Well, the festival’s name comes from that of the platform. Why? Because you can see both of them as channels through which Vogue opens its doors to all genres of photography. I personally love this idea of connecting different visual contents because I think there is a high potential in the exchange: for example, documentary and fashion photography. You can also see that on my Instragram feed, where I post quite diverse images. The online Photo Vogue is a great way for us to discover and give exposure to emerging talents. There is a tight relationship between the platform and the festival; they are two halves of the same world.

If Photo Vogue is a platform to discover talents, what is the next step? What does a photographer need to be published on Vogue? What are your criteria at the moment of selecting visual contents for the magazine?

If we talk about fashion and artistic works, aesthetics plays a very important role. While for projects with a social aspect the content is essential. That said, ethics and aesthetics always meet at a certain point. I know there is a vibrant debate about it, which involves photojournalism especially. I personally think that even in the most dramatic stories, aesthetics should be taken into account as it can give dignity and be instrumental in narrating certain situations with due respect and efficacy.

© Peter Lindbergh

In this context, do you think there is a need in the photography industry to give more space to female photographers? From your experience do you see a certain discrimination or lack of equal opportunities?

Yes, I do. It’s a social and cultural problem. Personally, I think that the conversation about gender shall not exist: it is a social constraint. At the same time it is very important to have a grant like yours, a platform for female photojournalists like womenphotograph.com and so on. Because we have to face reality and reality says that there is discrimination towards women. Women face many more problems than men to emerge and obtain certain working positions, don’t you think? For this reason I believe that it’s crucial to have these kinds of initiatives that could bring this theme under a lens and contribute to changing certain dynamics. That said, the situation is different from country to country, from culture to culture. I don’t think it’s right to be focused mostly on what happens in the Western world. There are fantastic women that are driving the change even in countries where we think there is less emancipation. Women who face discrimination and heavy critics, even from other women. In this context, I think that online platforms and social media play a crucial role, as they allow you to create your own audience and share your ideas. They really contribute in eliminating certain forms of prejudices.

Do you have any recommendations for women photographers and the new generation that is approaching our world?

I think that women shall be strong, and confident in what they are doing. Do not feel guilty about following your passions. Go for what you aim for and don’t be influenced by social pressures, such as having a family. If your dream is to be a photographer, go for it. If you wish to be a mother, go for it. I’m not judging somebody’s choices: just understand what you're aiming for and be loyal to yourself. We are in 2017, I’d love to see women who are not afraid of their power as human beings.

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Alessia Glaviano is the Senior photo editor for Vogue Italia and L’Uomo Vogue and Web Editor of Vogue.it. In 2016 she launched the first edition of Photo Vogue Festival in Milan, Italy. 

Giuseppe Oliverio is the Founder and Director of PHmuseum.

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