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Paolo Roversi | The Wapping Project

The legendary fashion photographer opens up an east London exhibition featuring work from his ‘Nudi’ and ‘Studio’ series

With a career that spans four decades, Paolo Roversi has become one of fashion’s most revered photographers. He has shot campaigns for the likes of Valentino, Christian Dior and Cerruti, and since 1983 he has produced multiple covers for both Vogue and Vogue Italia. His portraits have a distinctive identity, evocative of classical painting and photography. 

It is an intense moment, between you and me. I want you to give me a lot. You live a special moment together. Without this, the picture is boring. If you don’t live that moment together, the picture will never be strong

The ethereal, yet haunting beauty of his subjects is captured by the delicacy and refinement of his style. This month, his new solo exhibition opens at The Wapping Project - Bankside. The show includes images from his series ‘Nudi’ and ‘Studio’, and a selection of his work with muse Guinevere Van Seenus, which illuminates his command of the portrait form. We spoke to the photographer about the show, what inspires him, and how he is helping out new photographers.

Dazed Digital: We’re here at the Wapping Project - Bankside for the opening of your new exhibition. Why did you choose to show here?
Paolo Roversi:
I first met Jules [Wapping Project Director] at the Wapping Project when I was there shooting a fashion story with Jude Law. We met again at the Yohji Yamamoto exhibition. She then came to Paris, and asked me if I wanted to work together. There we got talking about the solo exhibition that we are at now.

DD: How closely did you work with the gallery on image selection?
Paolo Roversi: We worked together. We chose images from my book Studio, a selection of my nudes and then it’s about Guinevere, one of my favourite muses.

DD: You spent over 15 years working with Guinevere. Why does she inspire you?
Paolo Roversi: She’s a beautiful creature! Beauty is very important in my work, it’s the most important engine. Guinevere is a mysterious girl. She is feminine, masculine, fragile and strong. She has a lot of different characters, a lot of different levels of beauty. She can stay in front of the camera like a statue. She can then become like a dancer, a ballerina. She is a performer. She can really light up my imagination and my creativity. It’s very important for me.

DD: Your portraits suggest an admiration of classical painting and photography. Are these equally important to you?
Paolo Roversi: Absolutely. I have been been influenced by a lot of painters, a lot of photographers. I think it is good to be influenced. The masters give you inspiration to do your own work.

DD: Is it the process of taking portraits that you enjoy?
Paolo Roversi: Yes. For me it is a very slow moment. If I took your portrait now, it’s not one, two, click. It is an intense moment, between you and me. I want you to give me a lot, as much as you can. And you feel that, and when you feel that you want more too. You live a special moment together, an emotion together. Without this, the picture is boring. If you don’t live that moment together, the picture will never be strong.

DD: You started your career working as an assistant. Do you feel a desire to pass on your knowledge and experience?
Paolo Roversi: I teach photography at a school in Switzerland. I can give the love of photography. I am a little bit pretentious. I am not sure I am a good photographer, but I am sure I am a good teacher. I am able to give some feeling to young photographers. I talk to them about technique, which is very important in photography.

DD: What do you feel the future holds for the industry?
Paolo Roversi: There are a lot of new photographers. They are new eyes, a new vision. Photography is like music, even with several notes it’s always doing something different. A new generation with different backgrounds. It is very exciting.  

Paolo Roversi at The Wapping Project - Bankside runs from 3rd February - 31st March, 2012

Text by Miranda Williams