CR Exclusive: How Fashion and Art Come Together in Paolo Roversi’s Photographs

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Paolo Roversi is a master of combining art and fashion, as if they were always meant to be together. He refers to capturing these moments as “giving a picture” rather than “taking” one. Doubts, a new exhibit at Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York City showcases 30 various works from the photographer over the last two decades of his career and in every frame, the end result appears like a finished painting.

Opening during New York Fashion Week, the show’s title name from the Roversi’s own absolute sense of confidence. “Every photograph is a doubt,“ he tells CR. „In photography, every tiny choice (before and after you push the shutter button) has a consequence; every picture, like everyone’s life, contains in itself the lingering promises of what could have been—like a sort of subconscious. A good photograph then vibrates with all the vitality, all the energy of the doubt, like a burning flame. Always a question, never an answer.”

While Roversi makes a case for this ambiguity, his work in Doubts communicates bold fashion statements. Whether the models are wearing haute couture or posing nude, the artist creates an intimate atmosphere, in which the image displays beauty in light and shadows. One highlight includes a monotone, yet beguiling portrait of Natalia Vodianova with an intense gaze. In other photos, textures and folds from garments come alive, even within the scope of a small frame. Roversi’s Paris studio of over 40 years also makes an appearance in this new show; his physical space has been equally instrumental to his work as his signature Deardorff 8X10 camera. During a studio visit from his American agent, Roversi once said, “The first time my American agent came here, she said, ‘I can’t believe you do all these pictures in this little room.’“

Roversi was born in 1947 in Ravenna, Italy, and took an interest in photography during a family trip to Spain. After he completed an apprenticeship with a local photographer Nevio Natali, in Italy, he met legendary magazine art director Peter Knapp, who encouraged him to come to Paris in 1978. He never moved and started completing assignments for the Associated Press. He then chose to become an assistant to photographer Lawrence Sackmann, who had an infamously demanding reputation. “Most assistants only lasted a week before running away,” Roversi recalls, “but he taught me everything I needed to know in order to become a professional photographer. Sackmann taught me creativity.”

Roversi had a breakout moment in 1980 when he shot a Christian Dior beauty campaign. From that success, he moved onto collaborations for fashion magazine editorials and designers including Comme Des Garçons, Yves Saint Laurent, and Valentino.

Roversi has also photographed some of the biggest models in the industry of the past and present, from the likes Naomi Campbell and Freja Beha Erichsen to Sara Grace Wallerstedt, whose portraits are featured in Doubts. He has previously discussed his philosophy and approach behind the camera: “Fashion is about a mood, a spirit or an attitude that the model is interpreting, but the image is a portrait of the fantasy we create together,” he says. That same method also applies to nude photo shoots: “Nudes are just about the person and her body, so they’re very intimate portraits, but they’re not so very different.”

Whether the models move or stand still; or wear couture or sit unclothed, Roversi has used photography as his canvas to produce portraiture as art. But don’t expect him to stop anytime soon. He’s claimed, “My life is full of pictures I didn’t take, or that I just took with my mind because I wasn’t fast enough with the camera. Maybe one day I’ll write a book about the pictures I didn’t take.”

Paolo Roversi Doubts is now on view at Pace/MacGill Gallery until March 23, 2019.

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