Vogue Italia's Alessia Glaviano on curating the Photo Vogue Festival

Reading Time: 7 minutes

“The main issues in fashion currently are gender and identity, and a more inclusive image of beauty,” says Alessia Glaviano. “It partially comes from Instagram – Instagram has made a big change.”
It’s forward-thinking comment for someone known for her work on world-famous print magazine Vogue Italia, but then Glaviano’s also known for pushing the boundaries. In addition to being senior photo editor on Vogue Italia, she’s web editor of vogue.it, and she’s also responsible for PhotoVogue – a curated online platform on which emerging photographers can submit their work. And in addition she’s director of the Photo Vogue Festival, the first-ever international festival of fashion photography, which is now back for the second time in Milan. “Well it went very well last year,” she says. “So here we are again.”
Then there’s Vogue Italia itself. A very different beast to its more mainstream counterparts in the US and elsewhere, it sets the standard for cutting-edge fashion photography. It’s known for its adventurous and sometimes dark imagery, giving photographers such as Steve Meisel, Miles Aldridge, Ellen von Unwerth, and David LaChapelle the freedom to pursue stories that are hard to imagine placed elsewhere – stories that reference rehab, for example, or the heightened security in post 9/11 America.
Glaviano modestly puts this down to Vogue Italia‘s relatively small size – “we’re a small country so they let us do it” – and also to the efforts of her editors, describing the legendary Franca Sozzani [editor-in-chief from 1988-2016] as “a fighter”, and current editor-in-chief Emanuele Farneti as “going the same way”. But she also argues that the current affairs featured in Vogue Italia fashion stories are part and parcel of the genre – or should be, if it’s “fashion at a high level”.
“I believe it goes together, fashion and photography both talk about the current situation and where humans are now,” she explains. “If you look at work by Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, they showed fashion but they also talked about society back then.”

Image © Steven Meisel, Vogue Italia September 2006, State of Emergency
Image © Tim Walker, Vogue Italia July 2016 boy/girl/boy
It’s “an anthropological” strand she’s keep to pick out in the Photo Vogue Festival, which last year included an exhibition of work by female photographers considering ‘the female gaze’, and this year includes a show called Fashion & Politics in Vogue Italia, curated by Glaviano and Vogue Italia photo editor Chiara Bardelli Nonino, featuring politically-charged stories from the magazine from over the years. It includes Steven Meisel’s controversial State of Emergency story from September 2006, for example, which shows a model being apparently strip-searched and violently detained by the police; it also includes the shots Meisel took for the four Vogue covers for July 2008, which was themed A Black Issue.
“We’ve had an LGBT issue and an over 70s issue,” says Glaviano. “We keep this point of view. I don’t believe fashion photography should just talk about clothes.”
It’s a theme she also picks out in the PhotoVogue/Visions exhibition, in which 18 emerging photographers were selected from 150 who entered work via the PhotoVogue portal, by an international judging panel which included experts such as Michael Famighetti (editor of Aperture magazine), Nathalie Herschdorfer (director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Le Locle, Switzerland), and James Estrin (New York Times senior staff photographer/LENS blog co-editor).
Featuring photographs by Justine Tjallinks and Nadine Ijewere, among many more, PhotoVogue/Visions shows many faces too often excluded from mainstream fashion photography – older women, black women, resolutely unglamorous women pictured without make up and sweating. In fact it shows some images that aren’t fashion orientated at all – Supranav Dash’s shots of artisans in Marginal Trades, for example, or Harris Mizrahi’s shots of those living on the society’s fringes.
© Nadine Ijewere
For Glaviano, what connects the 18 photographers is the strength of their individual visions – in fact that’s why the show is called ‘Visions‘, she explains. “I feel we need more and more strong ideas, people with the ability to show us the world through their eyes,” she adds. “I thought when we went online with vogue.it, Vogue is not only fashion it’s a brand, a way of life. In print Vogue don’t have the space but online it doesn’t have that problem. Why not feature all photography? Art, documentary, and also fashion.”
“Online is such an opportunity, but the thing about Flickr and other platforms is that they are missing the curatorial point of view,” she adds. “Anyone can go there but it doesn’t have someone curating it, so anything goes. Everyone can take a picture with their phone now, so people get mixed up and think anyone can judge a picture.
“But photography is like writing – you can write a shopping list or you can write beautiful poetry. You can take snaps with your phone or you can make a creation. It is a language everyone can communicate in now, and this is what makes us all more visually literate, but we need curators more and more.”
Sara, Paris​ ​2004 ©​ ​Paolo​ ​Roversi
And, she adds, one of the tasks for a decent curator or editor is to understand the platform they’re working with, whether it’s a website, Instagram, a magazine, or a gallery wall. She advises photographers to edit their work differently depending on the context, for example, and has deliberately avoided simply transposing fashion stories into exhibition material in the third big show at the Photo Vogue Festival – a celebration of Paolo Roversi’s work called Stories, which Glaviano has curated.
Though he’s famous for his fashion photography, the show includes “many images never even shown”, including nudes and portraits, as well as research and fashion photographs that never made it into stories at the time. “We’re including a lot of the research compared to the fashion and glamorous pictures,” says Glaviano. “It was very moving for me to go to his atelier in Paris [to work on the show], where he has shot so many pictures.
“We’re not showing a retrospective from this year to that, we have divided it into nine different rooms, each reflecting a different aspect of his work,” she continues. “We have tried to find a balance – give people something easier to understand, and give them something more difficult.”
Photo Vogue Festival is on show in Milan from 16-19 November https://www.vogue.it/en/photo-vogue-festival/
© Alexandra Von Fuerst
From​ ​the​ ​project Marginal​ ​Trades © Supranav Dash
From​ ​the​ ​project Flawless © Rosa Polin
From​ ​the​ ​project Ladies © Romina Ressia
© R Michael Walker
© Nadine Ijewere
From​ ​the​ ​project​ ​​In the​ ​sweat​ ​of​ ​thy​ ​face © MOJO images
From​ ​the​ ​project Inside​ ​Out © Harris Mizrahi
From​ ​the project​ ​​Displaced​ ​in​ ​Ukraine © Daniel Jack Lyons
From​ ​the​ ​project The​ ​Reasons​ ​I​ ​Cry © Clara Giaminardi
Yaymi on the prairie, ​from​ ​the project​ ​​Diaspora © Cécile​ ​Smetana​ ​Baudier​
From​ ​the​ ​project​ ​​Palm Wine​ ​Collectors © Kyle Weeks
From​ ​the​ ​project La​ ​Trahison​ ​des​ ​Images © Justine Tjallinks
From​ ​the​ ​project Past-Present-Future © Isabel Martínez
From​ ​the​ ​project Boys​ ​Don’t​ ​Cry © Giovanni Corabi
From​ ​the​ ​series Names​ ​of​ ​Things,​ ​2016-2017 © Zhongjia Sun
From​ ​the​ ​project​ ​​Reborn Beauty © Kiki Xue
From​ ​the​ ​project​ ​​The Mediators © Scandebergs

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy