At the Palais Galliera, the first Parisian retrospective of fashion photographer Paolo Roversi

At the Palais Galliera, the first Parisian retrospective of fashion photographer Paolo Roversi

An author apart in the galaxy of fashion photography. The Italian from Ravenna Paolo Roversi, 76 years old, is in the spotlight of a major exhibition dedicated to him at the Palazzo Galliera. The Parisian museum restores the imaginary space of his studio and accompanies the viewer from shadow to light via a journey which, rich in 140 images produced over fifty years, attests that this creator, influenced by Italian painting, has his life during, experienced.

At the very beginning, here, in majesty, is the portrait of the photographer’s sister, 18 years old, in her ball gown. We are in 1956. Then, we continue, without any chronological order, with luminous bursts on the portrait, in profile, of Kirsten, of Audrey as a six-armed Shiva for Comme des Garcons, of Kate with a bare chest for Valentino and Molly for Chanel, Luca for Alexander McQueen…

Pigment color prints, charcoal prints, original Polaroids, blurs, telescoping, double exposures. But if the garment, its texture, its color are, each time, magnified, thus sculpted by the light, it is the portrait of the woman inhabiting this outfit which remains privileged. This “at the same time” of Paolo Roversi is his signature.

This is first made possible by couturiers who give free rein to the inventiveness of its creation. And, of course, by this photographer’s very particular way of looking at his models, of looking for, in them, a state of abandonment, what is truest, most natural. Thus, he extracts himself from the fashion session, he strips himself of his artifices, motifs, decorations to access their “intimate resemblance” dear to Félix Nadar. “Much more than a body and a face, I touch a human presence”, he said.

“He entered my soul”

The protocol is always the same: the models pose full-face, full-length, looking at the lens. He does not place himself behind, but next to the device. He leaves the viewfinder to look at them. The exchange of glances is direct, but the duration is stretched out by the slow, meditative rhythm of the long exposure, which, according to him, “gives the soul time to surface and chance time to intervene.” Like Julia Margaret Cameron, he stops the focus “not when it’s clear, but when it’s beautiful.”

The photo is taken in complicity with the model. Everyone admits that Paolo Roversi is not one of those photographers who make images to maintain their power as a dominant male. The energy it gives off is gentle. What he seeks is to reveal the mystery of beauty, to reach this moment of grace, this vibration where it is reflected in them and they in him. Saskia de Brauw confesses: “He entered my soul, he touched something deep. » Guinevere Van Seenus adds: “When we pose for him, we have the feeling that he is painting us. »

This would be impossible if, together, they did not retreat to this space of poetic reinvention that is the Luce studio, rue Paul Fort, not far from Parc Montsouris, in Paris. A mental place, cut off from the world, where we bathe in another dimension and in other lights.

Very quickly, Paolo Roversi also tried torch lighting, which he used, in the dark, like a luminous brush and which became his signature. He thus accentuates the relief of the bodies, by focusing certain parts using luminous halos. The moment of the shoot then becomes a kind of performance.

A shaman, an illusionist

In addition to the choice of the studio, the torch, there is also, from the outset, that of the large format camera and the Polaroid, a process which produces a snapshot on paper with soft, sepia tones and which moves away from realism towards abstraction. The fragility of the Polaroid and its random side are a source of happy coincidences. They are happily welcomed into Paolo Roversi’s laboratory: “The steps forward, the developments in my work are born from accidents”he said.

During a series of portraits of Lucie de La Falaise and Amira Casar captured for a modeling agency on November 16, 1990, a color Polaroid negative was developed, by accident, on a black and white positive. So how can we fix these sepia images which tend to fade? Paolo Roversi decides to take advantage of this error, to transcend it by making it a process, as did, for example, the surrealist Man Ray (1890-1976) and his solarizations.

Thus the artisan Paolo Roversi plays the shaman, the illusionist with the invention of Nicéphore Niépce and with his beloved models whose soft inner light he has not finished revealing…

Until July 14, at the Palais Galliera, Paris 16e. Catalog published by Paris Musées, 208 pages, 45 euros. Also read: Letters about light, by Paolo Roversi and Emanuele Coccia, Gallimard, 168 pages, 30 euros, and Birds, by Paolo Roversi, Atelier EXB, 88 pages, 39 euros.


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