How the photographic exhibition by Paolo Roversi at the Palais Galliera will fascinate you

He photographed the clothes of the greatest designers, on the most evocative models. Living legend of fashion photography, the Italian artist Paolo Roversi was artistic director of the exhibition dedicated to him at the Palais Galliera, in Paris, from 16 March to 14 July 2024. Interview with the curator of the exhibition, Sylvie Lécallier, to try to understand the timeless mystique of this alchemist of the image.

Can we summarize 50 years of photographic career in 140 photos? This is the impossible mission that the head of the photographic collection of the Palais Galliera set herself with the artist Paolo Roversi. This great fashion photographer born in 1947 in Ravenna moved to Paris in 1973 and began working for the biggest media, the most unique stylists and with the most talented models. “ It’s like being painted by light », Describes the model Guinevere van Seenus, met during the press inauguration of the exhibition which began on March 16, 2024, when we asked her what it was like to pose for this living legend of fashion.

Self-portrait Paolo Roversi 2020
Self-portrait by Paolo Roversi in 2020

Among these distinctive techniques are the use of the Polaroid, lighting with a flashlight, or manipulating negatives to create increasingly vibrant, not to mention living, images. But when we ask the 76-year-old artist to describe his work, he prefers to hit the nail on the head, but still summarizes his creative process with a few aphorisms:

“I don’t like analyzing my work. All I can say is this my world is the studio and the model becomes the center during the shoot. The designers are composers whose scores I interpret, with my camera like a violin. Light is not something we learn, it is something we feel. »

If Paolo Roversi prefers to let his images speak for him, to miss However, he asked some questions to the curator of the exhibition, Sylvie Lécallier, also responsible for the photographic collection of the Palais Galliera, to try to get to know this alchemist of the image better.

Interview with Sylvie Lécallier, curator of the Paolo Roversi exhibition at the Palais Galliera
Left: portrait of Sylvie Lécallier, photographed by David BALICKI. Right: Poster for Paolo Roversi’s exhibition at the Palais Galliera: Molly, Chanel, Vogue Italia, Paris, 2015

Interview with Sylvie Lécallier, curator of the Paolo Roversi exhibition at the Palais Galliera

To miss. How did this exhibition come about?

Sylvie Lécallier. Paolo Roversi is a photographer I have known for a very long time. I was sensitive to the fact that there had never been a major exhibition in Paris to showcase his work. I wanted to correct this injustice. And it was precisely the headquarters of the Palais Galliera, the fashion museum of the city of Paris, that did it. At the end of 2017 I met Paolo Roversi at Paris Photo and I took the opportunity to talk to him about a possible exhibition. He immediately accepted. In the meantime, the pandemic arrived, which slowed things down a bit. It is therefore an exhibition that has been built for a long time, which ultimately echoes his way of working.

Anna, Comme des Garcons, Tokyo, 2016
Anna, Comme des Garcons, Tokyo, 2016

What place do you think Paolo Roversi occupies in fashion photography and in the history of fashion more generally?

A central place, because he is a photographer who has developed a work, a work that is ultimately rather timeless. We often associate fashion photographers with decades, with specific periods, because they often miss a specific era. But we cannot date Paolo Roversi’s photos, because something timeless emerges from them. We might perhaps recognize an item of clothing from Comme des Garçons that could give a clue to the year of the photo, but this is quite rare. This is all the paradox of Paolo Roversi: even through commissions, he has been able to develop a work that distances itself from the speed of fashion, always in a tight flow.

Furthermore, there is no sign in the exhibition: is this to better blur the temporal markers?

In fact, there is no sign and we have deliberately avoided proposing a chronological exhibition itinerary. This in particular to allow better immersion in the photographs. But we obviously distribute a booklet at the entrance to the exhibition with all the information on the photos (the models, what they are wearing, the years, etc.). But you can, if you wish, not consult this information, because the photos are immediately accessible, even if you are not a fashion enthusiast. A lot of beauty and sensitivity emerges from it. These images do not need the fame of the models or stylists to be found interesting, despite being fashion photos. Does not consider the label of ” fashion photographer » as something negative, his work demonstrates that it can be art.

11. Luca, Alexander McQueen, Paris, 2021
Luca, Alexander McQueen, Paris, 2021

This is the first exhibition at the Palais Galliera on a living fashion photographer: why Paolo Roversi and why now?

For a few years now, since I have been head of the photography department at the Galliera Museum, I have tried to develop a policy for the acquisition of contemporary photographers that we were somewhat lacking. Paolo Roversi is one of the world’s leading fashion photographers, so it was a pretty obvious choice, especially since he made his career in Paris. He is there, with his study, where he keeps all his archives. It is important to offer exhibitions during the artists’ lifetime, rather than waiting until later, when it is too late. Let’s take advantage of the fact that the artists are still here to tell us their stories. If Paolo Roversi was no longer in this world the exhibition would have been completely different. There we really did it together, in collaboration, him as artistic director and me as curator..

How does this exhibition also highlight the way in which Paolo Roversi plays with the plastic dimension of photographic work?

Yes, today a lot of digital photography is done, but this exhibition helps to remind people, young people in particular, of this artisanal, manual, plastic dimension that photography can also have. This creates unique results, striking images that stand out from the flow of screens. Today we see such a profusion of similar images that we can feel overwhelmed, we don’t necessarily take the time to look at them. This exhibition is an invitation to take time to contemplate.

10. Lida and Alexandra, Alberta Ferretti, Paris, 1998

And since Paolo Roversi has preserved his entire archive, how to choose the 140 photos currently exhibited at the Palais Galliera?

Even photos that one day he might have considered unsuccessful, he might later find magnificent. Of course we also chose iconic, essential photos from her career, which are clearly essential to this exhibition. We also selected original Polaroids, therefore a very small format that contrasts well with the large prints in the rest of the exhibition. Sometimes we need to get closer to see clearly, sometimes the images can capture us from far away: these changes in scale visually punctuate the exhibition. All this selection work was done by purifying, eliminating, trying to get to the essential. As well as the photographic work of Paolo Roversi.

Given that we are at the Palais Galliera and perhaps some of the dresses photographed by Paolo Roversi also lie dormant in your archives, perhaps we would have expected comparisons between the photos and the garments in question. Have you considered it?

We considered it, yes, but we preferred to focus on the images. The heart of the exhibition is photography, it is Paolo Roversi. We didn’t want to offer this round trip” I look at the clothes, I look at the photography » which we sometimes do in our exhibitions elsewhere, and it is a very interesting exercise. But This time we wanted to let the images do the talking.

Exhibition ” Paolo Roversi » from 16 March to 14 July 2024 at the Palais Galliera, fashion museum of the city of Paris (10, Avenue Pierre Ier de Serbia, Paris 16).

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