Paolo Roversi at the Wapping Project Space
By Alexandra Shah
Born in Italy in 1947, Roversi worked as an assistant to esteemed British photographer Lawrence Sackmann for nine months, before collaborating with magazines such as Elle, Depeche Mode and Marie Claire. He has also collaborated with many fashion labels, including Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto,Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Christian Dior.
In the 1980s he started using large format 8x10” polaroid film to make his photographs. The images that he proceeded to make are darkly romantic and echo the characteristics of Albumen prints from the mid 1800s. Their delicate, painterly quality have bewitched people worldwide and Roversi has forged himself a formidable career spanning a period of fifty years.
The photographs serve both as an attestation to Roversi's nuanced, sensitive eye and to Guinevere's ethereal and chameleon like qualities as a model. Preferring to shoot portraits in his simple, stripped back studio, with it's wooden floors and few wooden stools, Roversi has been able to look beyond the surface of his sitters. His portraits of Guinevere appear to be like a game of elaborate character play, from innocent adolescent, to mysterious seductress, to androgynous sweetheart, she changes before his lens.
Guinevere Van Seenus has an incredible presence, which, twinned with the timeless quality of the photographs, piques a pressing curiosity in the viewer about the person in the image. Roversi coaxes to the forefront his model's most intimate qualities and tantalisingly hints at their innermost thoughts and feelings.
For his 'Nudi' series, Roversi shot nude portraits of a number of famous women, including Kate Moss, Angela Lindvall, Devon Aoki and Milla Jovovic. His nude portraits of Guinevere are surprising, despite their apparent quietness. The photographs depict a beautifully observed creature, who projects a beguiling, wild allure that fascinates the viewer. From one image to the next, she looks like an entirely different girl. It takes one some moments to realise that it is merely a change of hairstyle, a tilt of the face or a slight coquettishness of the body that alters her whole appearance.
'Audrey and Audrey' is a ghostly double exposure of a girl in white dress that looks like ritualistic garb or a kind of nurses uniform. Her head titled slightly to one side she appears as if in a trance, moving slowly across the image's frame. As with many of his other photographs, including 'Theatre, Paris, 1998', it reverberates with a sense of history and loss, transporting the viewer to the darkest reaches of their subconscious.
Roversi still painstakingly hand prints his singular platinum, silver gelatin and pigment prints, alongside his son in their darkroom in Paris. He is one of few photographers who are keeping this tradition of craftsmanship alive. His ability to take us to a different place in our minds and to ignite our imaginations, is anchored in the magical quality that his photographs have about them. This is undoubtedly, in part, down to the characteristics of the prints themselves, which retain something special and unique of the photographic process that tends to be lost in modern reproduction.
Roversi's still lifes are as enchanting as his portraits. His photograph 'My camera' takes on a mythical quality, depicting the single tool with which he has created such an impressive body of work. One can sense how people would have regarded a camera as a magical instrument in the medium's infancy. As we casts our eyes across his photographs, we get an impression of what it might have been like for early image makers to see the product of their cameras for the first time.
The exhibition is small and beautifully curated, each image serving as a revelation about Roversi's work. For anyone who has already been seduced by Roversi's romantic version of reality and indeed, for those who are yet to fall under his spell, this show must not be missed.
Paolo Roversi is on from 3rd February – 31st March 2012 at The Wapping Project Bankside, 65a Hopton Street London SE1, United Kingdom.