Snapshots with a soul
Photographing a top model is all well and good, but having the ability to infuse these beauty snapshots on glossy paper with a soul is nothing short of miraculous. Those who can do this are few and far between, and belong in the category of some of the most sought-after fashion photographers on the planet. Paolo Roversi (born in Ravenna in 1947) is a member of this select club, along with Peter Lindbergh (1944-2019) who recently passed away (See the report about Peter Lindbergh here); two adopted Parisians who made their mark in the discipline in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Roversi was first famous for his collaboration with Rei Kawakubo, the designer and founder of the fashion brand “Comme des garçons” who was the subject of a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum in 2017. For her he produced dreamlike and mysterious images featuring shadow effects and areas of distortion and blurriness.
Until 9 July, Sotheby’s is presenting an exclusively online auction of 75 lots from the studio of the famous photographer, with a total estimate of 300,000 euros. The ensemble offers a small glimpse of the photographer’s inner world.
To share things
“You know, I don’t want to become a museum, a mausoleum of my own work. As long as I am alive I would rather share things with others, with the younger generations,” he explains from his childhood home where he is spending the summer, on the Adriatic coast in Italy.
Drawn to nostalgia
As his images attest, with their brooding quality that verges on romantic, Paolo Roversi is known for being intrinsically drawn to nostalgia. “Every day I have to fight this feeling. The sale is a way of taking a step forward, giving things a new life.”
Since 1971 he has lived and worked on Rue Paul Fort, not far from the Parc Montsouris, where these various pieces were located at his studio.
Starting with the cameras: “That was the hardest separation. But I still have lots of them. I don’t count them.” The catalogue presents, for example, a polaroid camera (estimate: 300 euros), a Leica M6 (estimate: 1,500 euros) and a Hasselblad (estimate: 1,000 euros).
In his studio and apartment, Roversi is surrounded by numerous artworks by his predecessors and contemporaries that he admires. He is putting a legendary photo up for sale by the American photographer Richard Avedon (1923-2004), a portrait of Marella Agnelli taken in 1953. The wife of the former owner of Fiat is depicted here as an elongated figure, like a sort of graceful swan. The print, dated from 1981, is from an edition of fifty (estimate: 30,000 euros). This is the highest sum in the catalogue.
“I have many important photographs. I find them very inspiring. This is the case for the portrait of Marella Agnelli, which has always fascinated me with its beauty and elegance.” The photographer also cites another portraitist and American fashion photographer, Irving Penn (1917-2009), “who has been a sort of guide in my work.”
Black and white “Origine du monde”
A nude by Penn dated from 1950 depicts a black and white “Origine du monde”, which is all made up of curves. The work is a precious platinum print (he is known for this high quality printing process) dated from 1969, from an edition of 53 (estimate: 20,000 euros).
A real object
“For me, the photograph is not an image floating on a screen. It’s a real object, a print on paper whose visual impact, when it is hung on a wall, has a clear power. The printing is a key stage in the creation of the photograph,” emphasizes Paolo Roversi.
Lastly, naturally, the sale also contains a certain number of photos by Roversi himself.
He is particularly well known for his close collaborations with three supermodels: Natalia Vodianova, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss.
The most beautiful image of this kind in the catalogue dates from 2003. It is a work depicting Natalia, commissioned for Egoïste magazine. The polaroid shows her as a very young woman at the time, with a wild look in her eyes. “When you are around Natalia of course you see her beauty immediately. But I am interested in a more buried kind of beauty.
Gypsy and angel
Natalia is, in a way, like a wild child. She doesn’t respect the laws of bourgeois beauty. She is a mixture of gypsy and angel. It’s similar with Naomi Campbell,” says Roversi.
A recent print of a strange black and white portrait of Kate Moss with one eye closed is on sale with an estimate of 6,000 euros. The shot dates from 1993 and is part of an edition of 17.
More generally, contemporary fashion photography – despite its strong impact on our collective memory – still displays relatively low prices, with the exception of a few very famous subjects. According to the Sotheby’s sale expert, Jonas Tebib, the market for Paolo Roversi works at auction is still new and in its infancy.
Record price for Natalia
Since the late 1980s only 66 of his pictures have gone to auction. In November 2014, an identical platinum print to the aforementioned polaroid portrait of Natalia Vodianova was sold for 15,000 euros. This was a record price for the photographer.
“Even though his output is more oriented towards fashion collaborations than towards the art market, he is represented by influential galleries like Pace/McGill in New York and Hamiltons in London. In Paris it’s Camera Obscura who defend his interests,” observes the Sotheby’s expert. In galleries the images are displayed with prices ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 euros on average, with variations depending on the format and printing technique.
The geography of their face
“In my portraits I always say that I’m looking for the person’s identity. Not the geography of their face but something deeper, their soul. There is no formula for beauty. Words fail me when I try to describe the phenomenon,” observes Paolo Roversi with regards to his most sought-after work.
Oversaturation of images
Today the photographer suffers from the oversaturation of images in our daily lives. “We are the victims of a pollution of photography, with increasing numbers of photos taken any time, any place, anyhow. This has a detrimental effect on this form of language. We lose the sense of beauty.”
He concludes: “I have no answer to this phenomenon. Just a reaction: I carry on taking photos in my own way.”
Support independent news on art.
Your contribution : Make a monthly commitment to support JBH Reports or a one off contribution as and when you feel like it. Choose the option that suits you best.
Need to cancel a recurring donation? Please go here.
The donation is considered to be a subscription for a fee set by the donor and for a duration also set by the donor.