When Paolo Roversi steps inside his Paris studio, he is on a quest in search of that which lies beneath the flesh. Whether capturing the glamour of haute couture or the intimacy of a nude, for Roversi, “a photograph is always a portrait, and always autobiographical in a way. Fashion photography is a double portrait: a girl dressed in a certain outfit and this outfit dressed by a certain girl. This is magic to me.”
In celebration of his extraordinary body of work, Roversi’s new exhibition Intangible Presence delves into an archive that includes portraits, nudes, and even still lifes that underscore the artist’s love for that which can be seen with the heart.
“Every show is another story. I try to put together a little new fairytale so I see my work in a different angle,” says the photographer and AnOther contributor. “This time it was about the idea of the intangible presence. For me, photography is always a presence and an absence at the same time. It is a little phantom, a little ghost in the photograph. Even if it is silent photography talks a lot.”
Roversi first became interested in photography when travelling in his youth. “At this time I was more a writer than a photographer,” he reveals. “I was writing little poems but during this trip in Spain I took a lot of pictures and enjoyed looking at them. I made a little dark room at home. When I saw the first piece of paper take an image in the darkroom under the developer and the red light, it was so magical for me. I fell in love immediately, and I am still in love.”
In 1970, Roversi began his professional career, first shooting photojournalism for the Associated Press then moving to Paris where he was swept away by the magic of the great fashion photographers of the era. “I discovered Bourdin, Newton, Avedon, Penn – they were the masters at this moment in this world,” he says. “I was fascinated by this photography because it was talking about elegance, beauty, women, colours, fantasy, and creativity. I was seduced by that immediately.”
Like Nadar, the great Parisian portraitist of the 19th century, Roversi uses the camera as a means to create and preserve intimacy. “Beauty is not just a map of a face, the surface of the person, or the lines of experience, shape. Beauty is something spiritual for me,” he says.
This sensibility imbues Roversi’s work with a sense that anything is possible, perhaps best illustrated in his double exposure, Anna (Paris, 2015). “It’s not always conceptual. Sometimes [the photograph] is by chance. You don’t have to imagine everything: to pre-decide what you do this morning, this afternoon, where you go to dinner, when you wake up tomorrow morning. You live,” he says with a laugh. “What happens, happens. It’s very nice to let things come to you. I love accidents in photography because they always let me discover something I didn’t know before. I like to be surprised by something I wouldn’t be able to imagine.”
Roversi’s spirit is perfectly matched to an ever-changing fashion industry, allowing him to master an approach to photography that remains ever fresh. “Everything is moving – the people, the faces, the designs, the style, many things,” he says. “But there is something that is timeless, a certain idea of beauty and a feeling of spirit.”
Paolo Roversi: Intangible Presence is on view at Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles until October 12, 2019.