Over the course of a career that has spanned more than 40 years, renowned photographer Paolo Roversi has become one of the most prominent image-makers in fashion the world over. Roversi’s signature style – facets of which include his experimentation with light and a preference for Polaroid film – is endlessly captivating, making for photographs that are painterly, idiosyncratic and immediately recognisable as his. “My relationship with light is very emotional, very sentimental,” he tells AnOther. “It’s not at all about logic or reason or something you can deal with in photographic technique, it’s really about feeling. You could even say it is a love story between me and light.”
Roversi is speaking ahead of the opening of Storie, a new exhibition being held at Milan’s Palazzo Reale as part of the Vogue Italia’s Photo Vogue Festival. The “stories” mentioned in the exhibition’s title comprise nine rooms, each honing in on one thematic aspect of Roversi’s oeuvre. “Each story is very different: one room is about my work in the studio; one is about Golshifteh Faharani, the beautiful Iranian actress; a third one is about fairytales,” says Roversi. “So all images that have come out of my imagination and fantasy.” All this, plus some new and as-yet-unseen “portraits I did of Rihanna lately”. In this way, Roversi notes that there is no real distinction between personal and commissioned work – the exhibition happily places all on the same plane. “I think this is because I only work for myself, and everything then becomes personal; if I take a picture for Dior or Rei Kawakubo, it’s always for me a personal picture. It’s always coming from my heart.”
Film is Roversi’s preferred medium, lending his work its distinctive soft quality. He has long championed the large-format Polaroid camera and 8x10 film, having first worked with it in 1980. “The fact that you can look with two eyes, and not only with one, as in a normal camera, was quite interesting to me,” he says, “as was the speed of the picture being much slower. That changed the relationship with the models, the subjects of my images – all the processes are very different.” This change of pace translates: Roversi’s images feel like snapshots of movement captured in mesmerising slow motion.
Throughout his career Roversi has also made many nude studies, though he is reluctant to distinguish them from the rest of his work, stating that his photography “is always a portrait”. “I like to think that even when I take pictures of my models in eccentric fashion outfits I still am simply taking portraits of a woman,” he says. Nudes for him are simply “the most elegant and pure way to take a portrait”.
Bringing together all the varying aspects of his work – portraiture, still lifes, fashion, nudes, and even self-portraits – Storie is a comprehensive look at how all of these components inform one another to create Roversi’s unique style and approach. What’s more, each photograph feels entirely new, such is their timelessness. Looking back over his past work for Storie, Roversi saw an opportunity to recontextualise the images, imbuing them with renewed meaning and energy: “Going into my archives and exposing them is making them new, giving them a second life, a future.”
Paolo Roversi: Storie runs at Palazzo Reale, Milan, until November 19, 2017.