With Susan Sontag As Its Guide, The 2022 PhotoVogue Festival Confronts The ‘Contradiction of Overexposure’

Kwabena Appiah-Nti

A great mind and a timely topic anchor the seventh iteration of PhotoVogue’s annual fashion photography festival, set to unfold over four days next month. “What Would Susan Sontag Say? The Contradiction of Overexposure: A Debate on How the Ubiquity of Images Shapes Our Ability to Feel,” running from November 17 to November 20, 2022, encompasses six exhibitions and many talks and satellite events in and around BASE Milano, the sprawling Italian cultural center. (Panels will also be broadcast for audiences abroad on PhotoVogue’s digital platform.) 

This year, the festival considers how the overwhelming accessibility of visual media has changed the way that we respond to it—for better or, indeed, for worse. “Looking at how many images are uploaded online every day, how many are consumed in our phones, devices where our eyes linger on an image no longer than 0.05 seconds before resuming the scrolling, I asked myself, What would Susan Sontag say today?” Alessia Glaviano, the director of the festival, said in a statement. (In her 1977 essay collection “On Photography,” Sontag problematized the sense of remove effected by that medium: “Through the camera,” she wrote, “people become customers or tourists of reality.”) “The ‘normalizing’ effect that this repeated exposure produces in relation to the content of the images can be of two opposite natures,” says Glaviano. “On one hand it could be dangerous and cruel when it regards the images of suffering, on the other hand it could be used in pushing for a more diverse, just visual world.” 

Each attending exhibition—curated by Glaviano and Francesca Marani—approaches the issue from a different angle. In “Regarding the Pain of Others,” pictures and videos of recent disasters are described in writing instead of displayed, inviting visitors “to be active, responsible viewers” with their minds’ eyes “rather than distracted, passive voyeurs.” The results of a partnership between PhotoVogue and Voice, a carbon-neutral digital art marketplace, show off how 81 artists created projects in Web3 related to equity and justice. “Visual Communication for Change: Using Creativity to Address Neglected Tropical Diseases in Africa”—a collaboration with Ethiopian photographer Aïda Muluneh—surveys how these tropical diseases (often referred to as NTDs) impact individuals and communities across the African continent. “Italian Panorama” presents a gloriously multifaceted vision of contemporary Italian culture through the works of 25 multidisciplinary artists. “The Next Great Fashion Image Makers” calls attention to a new generation of socially conscious fashion photographers, winnowing submissions from a global open call. (While the selection for the show spotlights 40 artists from 24 countries, a slightly larger edit—of 100 artist from 40 countries—will feature in PhotoVogue Fashion 100, a video installation at BASE.) 

Vogue’s photography has always shown our audience the wider world through the lens of fashion,” says Anna Wintour, the chief content officer and global editorial director of Condé Nast. “It’s a thrill to see this spirit reflected in the images from PhotoVogue’s first global open call. These photographs are exciting, boundary-pushing, beautiful, and a reminder of how much creativity there is around the world, and how much more is always waiting to be discovered.” 

Finally, “Face Forward: Redefining the Vogue Cover”—a festival highlight—gathers some of the boldest and most memorable covers produced by Vogues all over the globe. “Fashion is a language spoken mainly through life and photography—and the latter can be a powerful storytelling tool to overcome issues of representation,” says Edward Enninful, Vogue’s European editorial director. “This is particularly evident looking at all the covers from our global editions of Vogue. We are taking a stand, celebrating how beautiful and diverse the world really is.” 

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