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Sunday, April 14, 2024

An exhibition on the accidental photography master

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The most interesting new fashion exhibition in Paris this year is in fact a show on photography, a retrospective on Italian-born Paolo Roversi; his half century long dialogue with great designers and his experimentalist aesthetic.

Autoportrait Paolo Roversi – Paolo Reversi

Unveiled on Wednesday evening inside Palais Galliera, the French capital’s famed shrine to fashion, art design and style generally, the exhibition Paolo Roversi begins with famed series where he worked with such greats as Yohji Yamamoto, Romeo Gigli, Nino Cerruti and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. Subsequently, his sensitive portrayals of several generations of super models have created instantly recallable images of female beauty.
 
To fashion afficionados, Roversi’s style is pretty unmistakable, and after you visit this exhibition you will understand why. His use of large format cameras, polaroids and natural light is unique. While his painterly sense of how to present a fashion silhouette in a printed photo is often uncanny.

Roversi came to Paris back in 1973 in his late twenties. He began by shooting cosmetics for Dior and ad campaigns for Cerruti, Comme des Garçons and Yoji, before gradually developing his signature style.  Almost by accident, after a polaroid in a series on Lucie de la Falaise and Amira Casar was accidentally developed on a black and white positive, creating a ghostly allure.
 
“The steps forward and developments in my work have often been the results of accidents,” concedes Roversi.

From then on, the editorial commissions from Vogue Italia, Uomo Vogue, Vogue Paris and Egoiste became pretty constant. And Roversi’s fame and reputation as an art photographer working in fashion multiplied.
 
When Polaraid ceased making their cameras in 2008, Roversi went digital. Though he also managed to squirrel away multiple boxes of Polaroid film, even publishing a book in that format, Des Oiseaux, in 2023.
 

Natalia Paris 2003 – Paolo Roversi

Frequently, using large format cameras the size of a small automobile, and working in quiet Paris photo spaces, including Theodore Géricault’s former studio, Roversi built a remarkable body of work.
 
His early shots of model Sasha for Yamamoto on baryta paper look almost painted in broad brush strokes; while a pigmented print of Anna Maria in a rouched and ruffled gown by Kawakubo is surreal.
 
A smeared and semi-naked Kate Moss in Valentino for W Magazine has a rare sense of demi monde glory, while Natalia Vodianova is seen in full teenage bloom. And his portrait of John Galliano in a 19th century pimp’s cocked hat must make that couturier very proud.
 
Though he rarely ventured from his studio for shoots, Roversi was not an inexpensive photographer. I should know, as I had the honor of commissioning him for Vogue Hommes when I edited that title in the 1990s.
 
Though it was one of my predecessors for whom Paolo produced a remarkable series entitled Nudi back in 1983. Where 17 legendary beauties including Ines de la Fressange, Stella Tennant, Amber Valletta and Shalom Harlow are photographed naturally and modestly. Almost ethereal images bordering on abstraction.
 
In a very real sense, Roversi is fashion’s answer to Nader, the great photographer chronicler of the creative and the powerful of late 19the century France. This exhibition explains why.
 
 

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