The Photo Vogue Festival returned this year for their 6th edition, titled “Reframing History”. Citing the writer Chinua Achebe, the festival aims to tell “a balance of stories” by opening the festival to applicants worldwide, where they received over 25,000 image submissions by over 2,500 photographers, narrowed down to a final 35 artists. Achebe often quotes an African proverb: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” As such, “Reframing History” is focusing on what they call the “lion’s stories”, the ones who offer differing viewpoints, forgotten histories, and non-mainstream beauty.
A standout of this selection is a photograph by Akinola Davies Jr., titled Black to Life, 2019. Stylized as a colonial portrait, a Black man wears a British red coat, his hand gently resting on the ledge behind him. As a part of Davies Jr.’s series, he has focused his lens on examining the forgotten histories of Black British figures, recreating their portraits in photographs and short films to reintroduce these historical figures in a modern context. In this portrait, Davies Jr. styles a model as Edward Swarthye, a respected Black Tudor porter.
Campbell Addy’s Untitled, 2020 is another striking image, with a Black model reclining delicately against a wash of pale turquoise and pale pink curved walls, with a white headdress contrasting against the dark of her hair and dress. There’s a softness to the image that isn’t often afforded Black women, and her pose—and gesture—creates a regality often seen in religious portraiture. A rising star, Addy’s work has focused on casting under-represented faces and celebrating diversity.
Most notably, the Photo Vogue festival puts a focus on diversity not often seen in fine art fairs, with a majority of the work both featuring a variety of ethnicities and also being shot by a variety of ethnicities. The art world has long had a problem with diversity; a 2018 study shows that across major museums in the United States, of the artists who are included in permanent collections, 85% of those artists are white, and 87% are men. Additionally, another study revealed that between 2008-2018, only 2.3% of all acquisitions by prominent American museums have been work by African American artists.
It’s a refreshing change to see diversity in all forms represented in a photography festival, and it’s no doubt thanks in part to this year’s jury, which itself is an amalgamation of artists, editors, and journalists from around the world for what they call a “multifaceted perspective”. And the work selected is broad; there are whimsical images, like a Magritte homage of a man with a green apple taped across his face; there are somber ones, like a roadside cross and flowers, denoting the site of a car crash fatality; there are ones focusing on the beauty of form, like what appears to be a young boy covered in white webbing, the hazy image filled with a gauzy texture. The through-line is that there is no through-line, only a focus on lifting up those who have traditionally not been seen or heard, and the result is intriguing, pensive, and wonderful.
By Christina Cacouris
Christina Cacouris is a writer and curator based in Paris and New York.
Photo Vogue Festival 2021. BASE Milano – Via Bergognone, 34, Milano – 18-21 November 2021. Digital Platform – online from 18 November 2021.