For Vogue Italia’s senior photo editor, Alessia Glaviano, the magazine’s very first photo festival is much more than a display of beautiful images. The event, which takes over the city of Milan from Nov. 24 to 29, is an assertion of the power of women.
“This is an important time to hold an event like this,” Glaviano tells TIME. “Because of this feeling, like we’re going back in time, we need to work together to show what it means to be an enriched society, which is to be diverse.” With over 30 exhibitions, pitched up in some of the city’s most elegant venues, the festival, created by Glaviano and Vogue Italia’s editor-in-chief, Franca Sozzani, is a celebration of fashion and photography as an interface for how we view the world.
One exhibit, called The Female Gaze, which Glaviano has co-curated with Vogue photo editor Chiara Bardelli Nonino, looks into the re-appropriation of female identity. For centuries, women have been painted and photographed through the eyes of a man. “But, what happens when the person objectifying is the woman herself?” Glaviano asks. “It becomes something extremely subversive and somehow, the act of claiming back the lens, changes the meaning completely.” Glaviano believes 2016 in particular has been the “year of believing in the power of women,” despite “the news about Trump getting elected”.
The exhibition collates photographers who have revolutionized the way we look at the female body. Greats like Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin are shown alongside younger voices such as Juno Calypso and Maisie Cousins. “As cliché as it sounds, being a woman, you’re bombarded with so many things that you must do with your own body, it’s just fun to say ‘this is a body doing whatever it wants,'” says Cousins. Her hyper-texturized, sticky, steamy images play with the concepts of desire and repulsion as bedfellows. She adds: “I love anything kind of ‘gross’ about bodies. You don’t get to talk about those things all the time and they still excite me.”
Amanda Charchian, whose work is also being shown, says that while she’s interested in the female form in a “really classical way,” the notion of the nude is just a starting point. Many of the women Charchian has photographed are female artists experimenting in their own creative fields, which turns the idea of the passive subject on its head. “I use ‘nude’ as a vehicle for having these different kinds of experiences and making different kinds of imagery,” she says. For her, feminism right now is about “integrating your feminine and masculine side. Not really about making femininity louder but more about balancing the energies.”
Glaviano and Nonino also sought to include artists outside the western globalizing gaze. “There are so many different cultures and the idea of being reachable to everyone was very important to us,” says Glaviano. Atong Atem, a “Third Culture Kid” from South Sudan who has lived in Australia for the last 20 years, is one such artist who presents another perspective on reclaimed identity. Atem’s work explores the culture of African diaspora. Her photographs celebrate “our right to be as black and african and proud as we want to be,” she says. Her work also pays homage to the “African materials” of her culture. “The materials and patterns in my photographs are so beautiful and striking and I’ve grown up with my mother and aunties wearing them and having my own journey with cultural shame becoming pride,” she says. For Atem, not only are her photos a political act, but her “every breath in public is”.
The festival not only celebrates diversity of subject but also diversity of audience; all the exhibitions and talks are free and open to the public. Photo Vogue will even provide a space for less established photographers to connect with the industry. There will be dedicated areas where people can hang out, read photography books, chat to Vogue editors or listen to talks. “The idea is to create a cultural space for people to meet, to talk, to confront,” Glaviano says. “I think it’s important for people in our position to create a space where people can get feedback. We really want to open things up and create new possibilities for photographers.”
Photo Vogue Festival will run from Nov. 22 to 26 in venues across Milan.
Alessia Glaviano, is Vogue Italia’s senior photo editor. Follow her on Instagram.
Myles Little, who edited this photo essay, is a senior photo editor at TIME.