Visual literacy through fashion photography

Excerpt from Vogue Italia’s photo editor Alessia Glaviano

“An excellent fashion photograph does not simply show the clothes that are to be advertised though it; remember that, after a couple of months, the mere retail value of a product dies away but images “emancipate” and can go down in history forever precisely because of the social, psychological and cultural zeitgeist they depict. Because they go beyond what they advertise and portray – “voice” – a world, a dream, an era and a vision.

How to assess a photograph? There are both objective and subjective criteria. In assessing an individual photograph the subject, the composition, the light and the technique are important. Whereas when it comes to a photographic narrative, besides the above mentioned criteria, there needs to be no repetition, unless it is meaningful to the story; in addition, there needs to be narrative cohesion and the ability to tell a story.

It is transformation that makes a shot artistic, the variance between reality and the way it is portrayed: such variance is the added value and represents the photographer’s unique vision. A good photograph needs to have a soul, be open, not provide answers but rather trigger questions, it needs to intrigue, have several layers of meaning and not be dull, flat, banal or one-dimensional.

When “reading” an image, as well as when taking it, the cultural and visual baggage of both the viewer and the photographer plays a fundamental role because this is one of the elements that will, unconsciously, influence both the reviewer’s assessment of such image and the photographer’s approach to shooting it.

Being more familiar with the subject of a photograph doesn’t make everyone an expert arbiter or a good photographer just as it is true that not everyone who knows how to write (in the most literal interpretation of the term) can be called a writer. Being able to judge a photograph means to truly know the history of photography, have knowledge of the masters and have studied, and not one photographic genre only because, given the current fusion of the different genres, being competent in only one would be limiting and ultimately not enough.

Fashion photography is the most complex photographic genre, one in which being skilled photographers is not enough and, above all, it does not guarantee total control over the end result which depends on the model, the make-up and hair style, the set and the styling, all elements that a good fashion photographer needs to be able to guide or, at least, judge like a good film director.

Pay attention to any small detail appearing in your framing. Everything that is considered accidental in real life becomes intentional in a photograph.”

di Alessia Glaviano

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Visual literacy through fashion photography