A lover of the light, Paolo Roversi is noted for his poetic and personal approach to fashion photography. At the moment his work can be seen in the exhibition Secrets at Fotografiska in Stockholm.
Born in Italy, but living in Paris since 1973, the 66 year old photographer Paolo Roversi is a well-known name in the fashion industry. At the age of 19, he made a trip to Spain where he took photos and wrote poetry to it. He has said that it was after this trip that he realized he had no talent for writing, but a gift for photography.
Paolo Roversi is an emotional artist more than a technician, although he loves his old Deardorff camera with polaroid film. In interviews he prefers not to speak about the technical aspects of photographing and the practical parts, but to talk about the effect of different lights and the feelings it creates in his art. As a child he was scared of the dark, something that he means have affected his perception of light.
At the moment, Paolo Roversi’s work can be seen in the exhibition Secrets at Fotografiska in Stockholm. What first meets the eye of the visitor of the exhibit is a projected sign on the wall with Paolo Roversi’s name, simple, yet clearly well thought out to fit the style of the photographs. The guide at Fotografiska tells me that the museum initially made their own sign with his name, but ended up using a film clip of the sign recorded by the photographer himself, edited to look like an old recording.
My photography is more subtraction than addition
There is a red thread running through all of the pictures, something only the really observant visitor will see. Behind every model, in the background of the photo, there is a red cover hanging, even though it’s be hard to tell its red since most photos are in black and white. Paolo Roversi himself says the exhibition is to be looked at as a book you can flip through. Most of the photos are shot in his studio, even the ones that looks like they are taken outside with fake snow falling, and he usually works together with a team of 20-30 people. He has used the metaphor of music to describe his work; the designer as the composer of a piece of music, the people working around him as the musicians, and himself as the conductor of the piece.
Paolo Roversi is a photographer acknowledged for his strong integrity and ability to stick to his own ideas. Once asked to do a big editorial piece for the magazine Vogue, he got tired of the chief editor Anna Wintour’s stressed attitude. On the day of the deadline, instead of sending his pictures, he sent her a video tape of him playing the banjo and singing about how he thought they should end their collaboration. He doesn’t call his subjects ‘models’, but ‘muses’. Regardless of his definition, the women in his photos very much falls in to the aesthetic template of a typical fashion model, being almost exclusively beautiful and thin. One wall that is particularly worth a closer look is the one covered with pictures of the Russian model Natalia Vodianova. Roversi has named Vodianova the perfect muse, with her unique mix of a childish beauty and womanly sensuality.
With their poetic imagery and black and white finish, the exhibition evokes a sense of days gone by. Some pictures reminisce of early 1900’s photo techniques, while others show women in 1920’s clothes and time typical make-up and hair. Roversi likes experimenting with his images, using gold leaf and old fashioned techniques. He has expressed a desire for non-perfection in his art, and some of his images are originally results of mistakes, traits he liked so much that he repeated it deliberately.
For the smitten of Paolo Roversi’s style there is more to discover in his friend and co-worker, the ex-model Sarah Moon. There are clear parallels to be drawn to her photography. Just like Roversi, she has a very illusionary and senseful way of working. It is a very emotional and expressive experience to walk through the Roversi exhibit, and it can be likened to a romantic fairytale with a happy ending. He might not want to be called a poet, but his pictures leave you with the same feelings that can be brought by an old love poem.
The exhibition Secrets is on display at Fotografiska in Stockholm until January 12 2014.