Alessia Glaviano is the Senior Photo Editor for Vogue Italia and L’Uomo Vogue.
Glaviano, alongside the late Editor-In-Chief of Vogue Italia, Franca Sozzani, is also responsible for Photo Vogue, a groundbreaking online platform where users can share their own images under the curatorial guidance of professional photo editors. Being a photographer and image-maker myself for over 10 years, an opportunity to interview Glaviano was an absolute honor. Glaviano’s esoteric approach to fashion and photography challenges superficial points of view on fashion and unveils the unknown nuances to the general public.
In this interview, she eloquently contextualizes the importance of fashion on a historical, cultural, and philosophical standpoint. As I read her responses to my questions, I began to further understand and appreciate her reverence for photography and fashion as a whole.
Are you familiar with the Greek myth of Narcissus? Most people only see fashion for its aesthetics and qualities. Does fashion explore deeper philosophical ideologies unknown to the general public?
I’m glad you asked this question. Most of the time what arises from talking about fashion is of the cliché for which it is associated with frivolity. Instead I think that fashion is first and foremost a mirror of society. The attitude of looking at it as mere frivolity is quite superficial or better, we should make a distinction. There is fashion in terms of style, art, and self-expression and there is fashion as a mere trend or status symbol. These two sides of fashion are very different.
The choice everybody makes in terms of clothing has a lot to do with identity. We have all experienced the feeling of wearing something that does not suit us and does not make us feel like ourselves. Fashion is a language and an important element of culture and a culture itself. It is a form of expression, our interface with the world, and it has a very deep meaning.
What is your take on fashion and its contribution to the world?
Think of the importance of stage costumes for an actor to really get into the character. Think of how a particular dress can influence your body language, how fashion has shaped itself to match the ethics and main philosophies of every decade. From the dissident movements of the ‘70s, when mass culture engaged with fashion and the dominant themes in it were born out of the sexual emancipation embraced in the previous decade to the hedonistic ‘80s that marked the decade of excess and the celebration of wealth. Fashion has always had a deep cultural meaning. As Judith Thurman says, “People dress up both to feel unique and at the same time to ‘fit in’. How you negotiate this tension defines what we call individual style.”
I think we should use fashion, mold it, mix it and combine it to express our individual style to express who we are. What I dislike is to follow “fashion” in a slavish way; embracing all its sudden changes that are mostly dictated by the market, than by real, authentic and artistic inspiration; fashion as a product of our media-obsessed consumer society; fashion that becomes just another way to fill in the enormous peculiar current vacuum of identity.
What do you generally look for when searching for new photographers to collaborate with? Are you attracted more to photographers who explore visual aesthetics or are you attracted more to photographers who express something more personal?
I don't like to label things; I don't believe in labels in general. Labels can be very dangerous, not in this case, but I think it is too much of a generalization. Who says someone who is exploring visual aesthetics is not also expressing something more personal? In general, I look for a vision. That is the most important thing for me. I look for emotions, something that moves me. As Paolo Roversi always says, “The picture has to be more than a mere reproduction of a reality; it has to be a revelation of something else.” Joel Meyerowitz once told me in an interview, “In order for something to be considered interesting, a photograph needs to have a ‘coefficient’ of transformation, which is the variance between reality and the vision of reality that artistry brings with it.” I think a good photographer is one who is able to return a unique, personal and unrepeatable version of the outside world.
The role of the photographer has changed a lot over the past few decades with the introduction of the digital camera. Now the role of the photographer has changed even more with the advent of camera phones and social media. Almost anyone can consider himself a "photographer". Do you think this advance in technology takes away from photography?
I think that photography has never been more alive; there have never been so many talented photographers around. But at the same time, it is becoming more complicated to earn a living with this profession. This is something that I worry about constantly. I see a lot of talented people struggling to stand out or to get noticed. It’s really not easy, but there’s always space for someone who’s able to communicate in a different way.
The web is a great place for unknown artists to showcase their works. If you’re able to build your own audience, then you have a new type of leverage when it comes to finding commercial jobs and things like that. Although, to have a lot of fans doesn’t mean that your work is good. Like everything else, social media produces both good and bad effects. In my opinion, the good ones out-do the bad ones. After all, photography is a language. There are people who can barely express themselves and others who are very articulate. It's like writing, almost everyone today can write, but there is a big difference between a poem and a grocery store list.
Fred Ritchin, Dean of the School at ICP, in his book, Bending the Frame, expressed a very important issue – that we need curators to filter this overabundance of images more than we need new legions of photographers. In the future, photographers can become "meta-photographers", who can make sense of the billions of images being made and can provide context and authenticate them and they can also become editors of other photographers' works. The profession is evolving and changing and we’re living in a very peculiar lapse of time that is actually unfolding before us. There are new things and new opportunities and I think we shouldn’t be afraid, instead we should be enthusiastic. We should try to make the best of what we have and embrace what the future brings.
Which other forms of art are you attracted to the most besides photography?
I like art that references real life, political art and artwork that acts as social commentary. Perhaps for this reason I have more and more of an affinity for artistic approaches incorporating photography or film; as this by default, in one way or another needs real subjects in order to exist. For some time now, I’ve thought that much of contemporary art has grown less and less interesting because so much of it is just too self-referential, and lacks greater purpose. It lacks any reference to real life; whether it is political, ethical, or philosophical issues. Another big part of it exists just because it sells well and can embellish the walls of your apartment.
When the work of an artist is stripped of meaning it loses its value. It is the awareness of its contemporary times that makes art meaningful, as Christian Caujolle once told me, “Art is able to become the visual abstraction, a symbol essential to the collective memory of a historic, social, and cultural period.”
I find it thought provoking and significant when there is a conjunction between art and the state of society. I believe that art should be an instrument for cultural and political change by changing the way people think and see. At least the function of art should be to explain the world to people, not just to the elite with an art history education.
Which photographers stand out to you as being this generation's biggest contributors to photography?
If we were talking about the last generation, I would definitely say Harley Weir. Her gritty, sensual and fleshy aesthetics is inspiring and is influencing most of the current photographic scene.
Do you think the wide spread popularity and accessibility of digital media will be the inevitable death of print?
I don't think digital media will necessarily cause the death of print. But for sure, there should be a rethinking of what a print magazine should offer.
How do you think print and fashion publications can evolve through the technological era?
Print magazines should reinvent themselves with the incredible and fast access the web allows, for instance, immediately seeing fashion shows, buying products, etc. It does not make much sense to just show current season’s clothes. They should become like precious little books and should not follow trends. A successful magazine should go beyond showing products; it should give you a point of view with images that transcend the clothes they advertise, to mirror the dreams of the culture they inhabit and the related social, psychological and cultural implications. In other words, the representation should become more important than the object itself: a concept borrowed from the arts, especially from ready-made. After all, fashion and art have always influenced each other.
What spawned the idea to create PhotoVogue?
When we launched Vogue.it, with my visionary Editor-In-Chief Franca Sozzani, we wanted to do something special for photography; operating within the challenges and opportunities that the web offers. Which are among others, unlimited space and the possibility to interact with the people.
At the time, there were already other websites where photographers could upload their pictures, like Flickr, but there was not a curated one. Going back to what I mentioned before and the need to curate; the web needs to make sense of the thousands of available images online. I believe that this is what makes PhotoVogue truly special. It's a platform curated by professional photo editors of a magazine, which has an undoubted credibility in the world of images.
Another reason that motivated me is that our world is usually perceived as exclusive and unreachable. It’s not easy to get in touch with professional photo editors. Every day I receive hundreds of messages from young photographers asking me for advice and I feel that it’s important for us to be there for them. However, we don’t have so much time in our daily routine, so it’s not so easy to get back to everyone. I try to respond to the most talented, but I also feel that we should start to open up and create the conditions for an ongoing dialogue; which happens through PhotoVogue and also the Photo Vogue Festival.
In the print magazine, we have limited space. Also, Vogue Italia is and should be a point of arrival for a photographer. The unlimited space we have on the web allows for us to open up to include, not only talents that are emerging all around the world but also all different genres of photography. I think photography is the most interdisciplinary of all mediums and I like the idea of crossing inspirations and references. PhotoVogue, we don’t just feature fashion but also documentary photography, still life, art, street, portrait, architecture, etc. Vogue Italia is a way of being. In a sense we go back to what I was saying at the beginning of this interview in regard to fashion in general. After all, fashion is not just about clothes, it is about life, and it has infinite possible declinations.
Are there certain mantras or philosophical teachings that you live by?
Well, I guess to answer this question I should write some sort of weekly column. I'm sorry, but I find it trivializing to just give a quote on such important themes. I will try to give you a hint with the fact that I don't believe in any Gods. I don't believe in some sort of higher purpose or prearranged plan and I don't believe that life has a meaning. I think instead that we have the full responsibilities of our actions and we can create meaning with our daily conducts.
Photography by Murat Sinici
Words by Yoshino
Alessia was photographed at the Condé Nast office in Milan, Italy.