That photoless Vogue issue

One of seven Vogue Italia cover options, a painting by Vanessa Beecroft, January 2020. Vanessa Beecroft uses painting as well as performance as her chosen medium to change our perception of the body in public spaces. This is her first artistico format into fashion, in her words.

When the news of the latest Vogue Italia issue came out, everybody shared it on social media or, at the minimum, read about it. It made that momentous splash due to the promise that no photography was employed in its making – and that was an added feature to make its production environmentally sustainable.

It is frankly the first time anyone has made the case of photography being an environmentally unfriendly medium. After all, it doesn’t employ harmful chemicals anymore, nor does it necessarily waste paper. If it does, that applies to art photography, not the commercial means of diffusion of information and persuasion. However, as director Emanuele Farneti explains in his editorial statement, a Vogue photoshoot implies hundreds of people traveling thousands of miles to make it happen. Painting, drawing and other tabletop artmaking only requires staying put.

But the major question is: how would a fashion magazine work as a photoless publication? It is a proposition difficult to imagine at this point. Even though photography was very widely used as a print medium, and cartes de visite were a major way to popularize trends and fads along with the faces of royalty and celebrities printed on them in the 19th century, the nascent fashion magazines – Vogue among the pioneers – didn’t use photographs to divulge fashion until way into the 20th century. Photography was simply too specific, too attached to a referent (the face and identity of its bearer) for viewers and readers to be able to imagine themselves as the wearers of the dress it promoted.

Actually, the issue is not completely without photos. The advertisements include them. Guest authors’ articles are illustrated with them. Only the features employ a wide range or mediums and artists in the creation of non-photo images that make for a diverse representation of styles, brands and outlooks on life through the representation of dress. Images bear a brief description of the apparel shown, such as material. The drawings and paintings really work in drawing (forgive the pun) the attention of the viewer with its unusual visual appeal.

Over the past decades, fashion photography has long imitated, recreated or at least given homage to painting masterpieces – so this example is just the logical further step. The issue works great, visually, because it doesn’t present specifics of a brand; drawing and painting work very well to present it as a feeling, as an emotion and as a dream. With brands having numerous other channels of representation, non-photo art is actually a much better way to do what fashion magazines do.

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It is unclear if Vogue plans to keep eschewing photos in its future issues. After all, if this is not just a highly successful marketing move – it is currently the most difficult to find magazine at newsstands – but a rational policy to be sustained, there is no reason to stop at just one headline-grabbing issue. However, if Vogue really wanted to avoid the environmental threat of photography, it can easily do it so by abandoning the necessity of travel and using local models, photographers and styling directors, not to speak apparel brands, that will shrink its carbon footprint instantly. Otherwise, the January focus on underserved communities and artists would be just that: a branding splash. Darn, the best way to be sustainable is actually to abolish fashion itself: the succession of seasons of new and ever shifting interest in clothes and things.

One response to “That photoless Vogue issue

  1. Wow! I had no idea that this happened…Admittedly, I follow fashion rather infrequently. However, I think this concept works well. It reminds me of the earlier fashion magazines who would employ many significant illustrators who interpreted the latest trends and brands in a unique aesthetic style. Thank you for this informative post and analysis on Vogue going rogue on fashion photography (at least for the time being)!

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