To Master the Shadows

Commes des Garçons by Paolo Roversi.
Photography is all about mastering the light and controlling it through the lens. “Painting with light” some say. In that scenario, the absence of light must be your canvas. Fashion photographer Paolo Roversi works within this context.

Paolo Roversi was born in Ravenna, Italy and now lives and works in Paris. During his teenage years, his family took a vacation to Spain and it was there Paolo´s interest in photography began. Back home he set up a darkroom and started printing black and white film. He also started spending time in local photographer Nevio Natali´s studio, assisting Nevio and learning from him.

Paolo worked as a photographer for various assignments in Italy until he, in 1973, was invited to Paris by Peter Knapp, the legendary Art Director of Elle magazine. Paolo Roversi has lived in Paris since that day.

From the book Libretto by Paolo Roversi.
“I work like all painters do: with the light that comes from the window. I prefer subtracting to adding; I do not want anything around my subjects in order to magnify the person”. Paolo Roversi Libretto.

Little by little, he started approaching fashion photography, and soon British photographer Laurence Sackman took Roversi on as his assistant.

“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 camera must be well-fixed but your eyes and mind should be free”, Paolo has said about this time. Paolo Roversi worked for Laurence Sackman for nine months before starting out on his own.

Commes des Garçons by Paolo Roversi.

Roversi is known for shooting with large format Polaroid film, and claimed to buy as much as he could find before it was discontinued. This technique creates a dreamlike atmosphere, with soft light and filled with emotion. Paolo Roversi has perfected this process and his images resembles no other photographers. Paolo Roversi´s mysterious, romantic images stand out among the mostly harsh, super sharp fashion imagery of today.

Paolo Roversi My Camera.
Lida and Alexandra by Paolo Roversi.
Kate by Paolo Roversi.

“My photography is more subtraction than addition. I always try to take off things. We all have a sort of mask of expression. You say goodbye, you smile, you are scared. I try to take all these masks away and little by little subtract until you have something pure left. A kind of abandon, a kind of absence. It looks like an absence, but in fact when there is this emptiness I think the interior beauty comes out”, Roversi has said of his technique.

Paolo Roversi is critical of most digital photography. “To be honest with you, I don’t care about the millions of pixels of a digital image. I’m interested in the primitive photographic process, in the image coming out of the dark and appearing like a ghost. The process of exposure to light is carved in my consciousness” he has said.

Sara, Paris.

“When I was a child I was very scared of darkness, partly because my brothers would lock me up and scare me … So I became a very good friend of the light. I remember when it was dark and I saw ghosts in the shadows. How they, when I fell asleep, intertwined with my dreams and became reality. And that is my photography”, Paolo Roversi has said.

Kasia, Paris.

I remember when it was dark and I saw ghosts in the shadows. How they, when I fell asleep, intertwined with my dreams and became reality. And that is my photography.

Paolo Roversi
Kirsten Derrière un Voile.
Paolo Roversi.