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  • Written by Kaleigh Werner


Paolo Roversi exhibit palais galliera
Tanel Bedrossiantz, Jean Paul Gaultier’s “Barbès” women’s ready-to-wear fall-winter collection of 1984–85, 1992.

Amongst a fuzzy abyss, Paolo Roversi’s eye brings forth the subject of the shot. He doesn’t need to remove the haze inside the image to make his model more defined. Instead, the visionary’s ethereal technique is purposeful as it guides the viewer’s gaze to experience the subject in a way that evokes feeling through them rather than at them. From the moment Roversi began working with Peter Knapp, the former art director for ELLE magazine, in 1973, he’s been celebrated for his experimentation with exposure, pursuing a kind of dark photography in which he casts shadows and shines light between pure spaces. 


When Roversi was in his 20s, he left his home in Italy and moved to Paris, where he’s resided for over 35 years. The fortuitous being had fallen in love with photography on vacation as a young boy with his family to Spain in 1964. So when Knapp approached him years later with an editorial opportunity, Roversi could see his path was only lit one way - to Paris. His “Studio Luce,” the name, a nod to his infatuation with lighting, has been his workshop from when he moved in the 70s.


Following the invitation from Knapp, Roversi spent nine months learning from renowned British photographer Lawrence Sackmann before assuming an independent role to shoot smaller projects for the magazine and Depeche Mode. During this time, he would refine his technique, developing a very niche style personal to him and publishing his portrait portfolios.


Roversi’s habitual use of the Deardorff 8 x 10 camera, pigmented gelatin, and silver halide for chromogenic printing imagined a world that resonated with famed collaborators like Naomi Campbell, Monica Bellucci, Comme des Garçons, Valentino, and Yves Saint-Laurent. But his long-time partnership with Dior is known to be the catalyst that spread the artist’s misty effect throughout the fashion industry.


He was asked to shoot for Dior’s 1980 beauty campaign after the house came across his envelope of work. Since then, the audacious photographer has remained a desired contributor to their advertisements and cover shoots. Their 40-year relationship was honored in a hardcover collection of Roversi’s images for the Parisian fashion maison titled Dior Images: Paolo Roversi. Inside his eponymous feature book is one of Roversi’s notable shots, “The Juno Dress” pulled from Dior’s 1949 fall/winter haute couture line. This image is an immaculate representation of how he doesn’t sharpen the figure to make it more defined but opts for a long exposure.


Using flash always felt “empty” to him. He’d rather capture the trail of his object by pulling the existence of it out of the frame. “The presence is much stronger, much deeper – in the aura, in the eyes, there is something. Maybe the soul is coming into the eyes,” the artist once said.


Roversi has become among the most desirable photographers, captivating the eyes of viewers outside the fashion realm, such as Rihanna, who requested he be the photographer for her ANTI album cover and promotion. In “Paolo Roversi. Il sentimento della luce," an intimate tribute documentary to him and his beautiful effect, John Galliano reflected on Roversi’s ability to make you feel transcendent and secure simultaneously when you’re behind his camera. Galliano confessed: “When he starts taking pictures, you feel completely safe. Paolo’s direction is minimal but… you feel the light on your face, it’s a sort of dance with lighting. It’s all very natural: Paolo’s light is subdued but intense.”


Monica Bellucci, who first posed for Roversi when she was young, compared shooting with her daughter and him for Vogue Italia to a “spiritual awakening.” Not only did their final cover image turn out raw and beautiful, but it looked as if Roversi had interrupted an honest moment between them - only he created it. Roversi’s devotion to protecting the figures behind his lens mirrors how he’s always preserved the integrity of a designer’s vision. The experimentalist makes adjustments that blur the boundaries between contemporary life and optical illusion, which result in complete images that are more like fine art. Though his photographs have an air of innocence to each of them, their effect continues to be forceful, distinct, and ever-lasting.


Paolo Roversi exhibit at the Palais Galliera is set to open in Paris from 16 March 2024 to 14 July 2024, recognizing Roversi’s transformative perspective and the impact of his technique on some of the most illustrious fashion houses.

Sihana, Comme des Garçons A/H 2023-2024, Paris, 2023. Tirage au charbo Audrey Marnay, Comme des Garçons P/E 1997, Paris, 1996. Tirage au charbon.

Guinevere van Seenus, Yohji Yamamoto P/E 2005, Paris, 2004. Tirage pigmentaire sur papier baryté. Lida et Alexandra Egorova, Alberta Ferretti A/H 1998-1999, Paris, 1998. Polaroïd original

 Luca Biggs, Alexander McQueen A/H 2021-2022, Paris, 2021. Tirage au charbon Lucie de la Falaise, Paris, 1990. Tirage au charbon


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