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Paolo Roversi: a gift from boyhood turns into the evolution of a photographer

From a darkroom in a cellar to celebrating Dante Alighieri for the Pirelli calendar: following the path through Paolo Roversi’s photography

Paolo Roversi photographer

Paolo Roversi, once a boy fascinated by pictures, is now one of the most prominent contemporary photographers. His love story with photography began at the age of seventeen during a holiday in Spain, when his parents gave him a camera as a gift. Won over by the medium, he installed a darkroom in his cellar, thus developing images by himself. After studying under the wing of a local photographer, Roversi worked as a reporter with Associated Press, an international press agency, documenting the celebrations for Ezra Pound’s death in Venice. 

Polaroids and shooting style

Roversi’s eye was evolving, and he took upon any opportunity to grow: when Elle’s creative director Peter Knapp recommended him to move to Paris, the photographer immediately packed for France’s capital. Here he crossed roads with fashion, the perfect complement to his interest in portraits: he searched for an expert that could guide him and nurture his vision. After visiting giants like Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, he settled for a short apprenticeship with Laurence Sackman, a master of black and white photography. At the end of this period Roversi fell in love with Polaroid 20×25, a celluloid that became his signature. His shooting style became focused on a spiritual register: his goal was to fix in print, the very soul of the model. The time of exposition on each of his shots are longer than usual, ranging from a bunch of seconds to almost thirty, and the flash is used to freeze the subject, separating it from the context. The colors are mostly tone-on-tone, privileging black and whites that merges one into another seamlessly, a process extended to the dresses of the models, which fuse with the background. 

Corner Paris 2002, Photography Paolo Roversi

Lampoon reviews Paolo Roversi’s work

Roversi’s photography is a research for the essential, interested in subtracting rather than accumulating, and conceived as a solo dialogue with the subject, seen as marble from which he can unearth a soul. The now fully developed eye of the photographer establishes a visual maieutic, a dialogue with the model aimed to let her essence emerge from her surroundings, cutting out the inessential in search of her very existential core. Having forged his particular viewpoint, he collaborated with Romeo Gigli, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme Des Garconne, Yves Saint Laurent and Giorgio Armani, establishing his firm in the fashion world. 

Paolo Roversi – Studio Luce exhibition

Although working away from his hometown, in his studio sited in Rue Paul Fort 9 in Paris, the spark that animates his work comes from his youth in Emilia-Romagna: the exhibition that was organized last year in Ravenna – entitled Paolo Roversi – Studio Luce and curated by Chiara Bardelli Nonino, photo editor of Vogue Italia, with scenery from Jean-Hugues de Chatillon, previously working with Vogue, Aspesi and Ami – was a way to go full-circle, returning his now developed gaze in the lands that inspired him as a boy. His production ranged from fashion shots, portraits of friends like Robert Frank and Peter Lindbergh and still life of stools on the streets. Roversi also worked at the 2020 Pirelli calendar and an homage to Dante Alighieri where he shot some photos of iconic models Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Natalia Vodianova retelling in a modern way the figure of the muse. 

Paolo Roversi fashion photography

Born in Ravenna in 1947, Paolo Roversi is a fashion photographer based in Paris. Best known for his striking, intimate portraiture and classical visual language, he has collaborated with Romeo Gigli, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme Des Garconne, Yves Saint Laurent and Giorgio Armani, establishing his firm in the fashion world. In 2020 he was chosen as the photographer of the Pirelli calendar, where he paid homage to the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. In October 2020 he inaugurated a retrospective exhibition in his native city Ravenna entitled Paolo Roversi – Studio Luce.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
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