Masters of photography: Paolo Roversi

Paris-based Paolo Roversi is best known for his exceptional portrait and fashion photography. Employing a characteristic technique that he refers to as “subtraction”, Roversi seeks to minimize the content of each photograph with the intention of releasing the subject’s innermost beauty. The result is an ethereal and lucid air in his work. Known for his 8×10” Polaroid format, Roversi gained the attention of the fashion houses of Europe and has since achieved international acclaim.

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Roversi was born in 1947 in Ravenna, Italy, but despite his Italian roots, Roversi’s passion for photography started whilst on holiday with his family in Spain. He was just 17 years old when he teamed up with Battista Minguzzi, another amateur, to co-create their very own blackroom in a local cellar. In this aspirant environment, Roversi started developing his very own black and white photographs whilst learning everything he could from Nevio Natali, a career photographer with a local studio.

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1970 saw Roversi’s professional career begin to take flight. Starting out as a photojournalist, Roversi accepted work from the Associated Press. His most high-profile assignment took him to Venice to document Ezra Pound’s funeral. That same year, he formed a partnership with a friend, Giancarlo Gramantieri, and opened his first portrait studio in Ravenna. Here, he began to develop his distinguished style by capturing portraits of celebrities and their relatives.

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1971 delivered a twist of fate; Roversi met Peter Knapp, the Art Director of the ever popular Elle Magazine, completely by chance. Impressed by his work, Knapp invited Roversi to visit him in Paris. It was one of the defining connections of his career, as it brought him to the city where a large body of his major works were realised. Roversi decided to settle in Paris and started working for the Huppert Agency shortly after his visit.

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In Paris, Roversi turned away from photojournalism and increasingly towards fashion photography. In 1974, Lawrence Sackmann, a British photographer with a reputation for scaring his assistants away in a matter of weeks, hired Roversi as an assistant. Determined to learn from one of the best photographers in the industry, Roversi lasted an impressive 9 months in difficult circumstances. After this period, he started producing small-scale projects for magazines such as Depeche Mode and Elle, deepening his knowledge of the fashion industry and gaining ever valuable exposure.

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His first significant fashion story was published by Marie Claire, and a subsequent beauty campaign for Christian Dior in 1980 strengthened his reputation as a fashion photographer. A crucial period for setting his image, it was also the year in which he started to use his iconic 8×10” Polaroid format.

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Throughout his early career, Roversi moved to several different apartments in Paris, always preferring the left bank. His studio, which was usually built in one of the apartment rooms, moved with him. In 1981 he moved into the apartment on 9 Rue Paul Fort that is still his residence today.

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Since then, Roversi has gone on to produce campaigns for a plethora of renowned fashion houses, including Dior, Comme des Garcons, Yves St Laurent and Valentino to name but a few. His work has been featured in prestigious magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and i-D.

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