Paolo Roversi Secrets at Camera Obscura Gallery
Paolo Roversi is undeniably one of the most influential studio portraiture photographer. Galerie Camera Obscura in Paris is displaying a selection representing the essence of his work: portraits, nudes, self-portraits and fashion photography.
In his Paris studio, Roversi photographs subjects in 8×10 Polaroid format with his wooden 20x25cm Deardorff camera often allowing his images to fade before fixing them to their substrate. Roversi often uses long exposures at close range which gives his work an aesthetic resembling the earliest days of studio photography, but with a renewed urgency that wavers somewhere between history and apparition.
His photographs are stripped of the usual accoutrements of studio portraiture. The subjects seem to push back with a vulnerable intensity that reveals as much of the photographer as of the model. Sometimes, Roversi appears like an uncertain shadow, almost a medium, either by his subject’s side, or as the subject himself. One of his strongest influences in portraiture have been the Byzantine mosaics he knew during his childhood in Ravenna, along with certain Renaissance Madonnas.
Born in Ravenna in 1947, Paolo Roversi’s interest in photography was kindled as a teenager during a family vacation in Spain in 1964. Back home, he set up a darkroom in a convenient cellar with another keen amateur, the local postman Battista Minguzzi, and began developing and printing his own black & white work. The encounter with a local professional photographer Nevio Natali was very important: in Nevio’s studio Paolo spent many many hours realising an important apprenticeship as well as a strong durable friendship.
In 1970 he started collaborating with the Associated Press: on his first assignment, AP sent Paolo to cover Ezra Pound’s funeral in Venice. During the same year Paolo opened, with his friend Giancarlo Gramantieri his first portrait studio, located in Ravenna, via Cavour, 58, photographing local celebrities and their families. In 1971 he met by chance in Ravenna, Peter Knapp, the legendary Art Director of Elle magazine. At Knapp’s invitation, Paolo visited Paris in November 1973 and has never left.
In Paris Paolo started working as a reporter for the Huppert Agency but little by little, through his friends, he began to approach fashion photography. The photographers who really interested him then were reporters. At that moment he didn’t know much about fashion or fashion photography. Only later he discovered the work of Avedon, Penn, Newton, Bourdin and many others.
The British photographer Lawrence Sackmann took Paolo on as his assistant in 1974. « Sackmann was very difficult. Most assistants only lasted a week before running away. But he taught me everything I needed to know in order to become a professional photographer. Sackmann taught me creativity. He was always trying new things even if he did always use the same camera and flash set-up. He was almost military-like in his approach to preparation for a shoot. But he always used to say ‘your tripod and your camera must be well-fixed but your eyes and mind should be free’”. Paolo endured Sackmann for nine months before starting on his own with small jobs here and there for magazines like Elle and Depeche Mode until Marie Claire published his first major fashion story.
In the middle of the ‘80s the fashion industry was very keen to produce catalogues which allowed photographers to express a very creative and personal work: Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, Romeo Gigli… gave Paolo that opportunity.
During his travels to India, Yemen… Paolo took many portraits; we can see some of them in his books ANGELI and Al Moukalla; a book about India is in preparation. Paolo has also realised some commercials. Since the middle 80’ his work has been subject to many exhibitions and books and many awards have honoured his work. Today Paolo has a regular collaboration with the most interesting fashion magazines and fashion designers.
Along the exhibition, a reissue was made of the book originally published in October 2013.
EXHIBITION Until 21 June 2014
Secrets de Paolo Roversi
Galerie Camera Obscura 268, bd Raspail 75014 Paris
Biography and Photos courtesy of Paolo Roversi and Galerie Camera Obscura