Sihana, Comme des Garçons A/H 2023-2024, Paris, 2023. Tirage au charbon



Audrey Marnay, Comme des Garçons P/E 1997, Paris, 1996. Tirage au charbon.

Over the past 50 years, Paolo Roversi has been one of the masters of fashion photography  and yet there had never been an exhibition of his work in Paris where he has been working since 1973, when he arrived from his native Italy, until now. Palais Galliera is finally making amends and repairing this injustice. The museum of fashion and costume is celebrating over half a century of Roversi’s photography through 140 works - prints, negatives, books, Polaroid prints, magazines, catalogs, etc.


Natalia Vodianova, Paris 2003. Tirage pigmentaire sur papier baryté  

The exhibition opens with his first picture: a small portrait of his sister, 18, ready to go to a ball in a beautiful dress especially made for the occasion. It was while traveling in Spain, in 1966, when he was just 21 years old, that he fell in love with photography while taking pictures with his small camera. Later, in the early 1970’s, he learned to develop film with the local postman, Battista Minguzi. Paolo then opened a small studio in his native Ravenna, in 1972, but the following year, the young photographer moved to Paris. He was helped by another Italian, Popy Moreni, who was both a friend and an influential designer at the time. His dream was to work for the great fashion photographer Guy Bourdin. But when he went to meet him in his studio, Bourdin, who was famously eccentric, asked the young Paolo what his astrological sign was. When Paolo told him it was Libra, the master said: “It’s not going to be possible”.

Roversi then was the assistant to Laurence Sackman. His advice: “Your tripod needs to be very stable, but your eyes and your mind need to remain free.” In 1975, he got his first images published in Elle and two years later, his first cover for Marie-Claire. “When Marie-Claire called me, I was so happy I was jumping all over the house,” he recalls. In In 1980, he fell in love with the Polaroid camera and quickly bought one in New York. It has remained to this day the tool that has allowed Roversi to create his very recognizable style. That and a trip to India where the only light in villages came from the light of candles and sometimes of the moon. He understood that light could be softer, that images could be beautiful in a half light. “He understood that the light he wanted he could not create it or measure it,” explains Chiara Bardelli Nonino in a text written for a just published book called Lettres sur la Lumière (Gallimard publisher). “He just had to open the window from his studio to let the humble and pale northern light into his studio, that light that makes Paris different from all other cities. To him, it was a spiritual awakening.” 

Shooting with an instant camera was a radical decision in the world of fashion. Paolo Roversi needed to be free from rules and conventions. That’s how he has remained throughout his half century of intense work until today. 

Quickly, Roversi worked for big brands and designers. He shot campaigns for Dior, for Yohji Yamamoto, Romeo Gigli.  In 1982, he started his long collaboration with Comme des Garçons. While shooting Lucie de la Falaise and Amira Casar for the FAM modeling agency, the color Polaroid was accidentally processed as a black & white image. Instead of deploring this mistake, Roversi made it one of his trademarks. He admits that he loves each of his images. For him, there are no bad ones. Once, when doing an assignment in the outskirts of Paris, all the images were scratched in the lab. Instead of rejecting them, he decided that they actually reflected exactly how he felt. “Evolutions in my work have all been the result of accidents,” he says. “Accidents” that can occur in the processing of Polaroid film are always met with enthusiasm. 

Roversi likes to stand next to his camera when taking a portrait which allows him to make eye contact with the model. With the large format camera, taking a photo takes a long time. “It gives the soul time to come to the surface,” he says. “And chance can intervene.” For Roversi, images are made with the heart, not with the head. It defines precisely the kind of man Paolo Roversi is. Jean-Sébastien Stehli 

April 04, 2024 — Sonam Khetan