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Musée Galliera : Paolo Roversi – Interview par Carole Schmitz


Paolo Roversi: Between Light & Darkness

Paolo Roversi photographs fashion like no one else. He is also an outstanding portraitist, creating images that are both soft and deep, and whose signature is instantly recognizable. His work is instinctive and irrational, as he likes to say. His world is made of fantasy, dreams and poetry. The aestheticism of his images is like an imaginary language created by the photographer.

To celebrate his incredible career, the Musée Galliera is unveiling 140 photographs until July 14 2024, offering an intimate invitation into the world of this exceptional artist.


The Palais Galliera exhibition unveils 50 years of photography. What were the selection criteria for the 140 images shown?
Paolo Roversi: There weren’t any real selection criteria, because this isn’t a real retrospective in the sense that this exhibition doesn’t retrace my entire career as a photographer, even if some of the images have been taken a long time ago.

Can this exhibition be seen as an intimate journey into your world?
P.R. : Yes, absolutely. This exhibition can also be read as a diary.

Over the years, which designer’s work has particularly touched you?
P.R. :Many have touched me since I started out. But if I had to pick just a few, I’d start with Rei Kawakubo, with whom I often collaborated for Comme de Garçons. Then I’d mention Yoji Yamamoto, Azzédine Alaïa and John Galliano. Nothing but great talents. They all came regularly to my studio during photo shoots. We had a real complicity. It was an opportunity to work with them. I remember Azzédine dressing the models himself. It was a bit like sitting down at the piano to play Mozart and having the master himself turn the pages of the score for you. Moments like that are simply magical.

How do you see the new generation?
P.R. : The world is changing at an incredible speed. So, it’s inevitable that the fashion world will change too. Today’s fashion world has nothing in common with the one I knew almost 50 years ago. It’s important to evolve at the same time, to challenge ourselves. That said, despite all these changes, there are as many talented designers today as there were in the past, and I find their work very interesting.

What does fashion mean to you?
P.R. : Quite simply, fashion is a language that enables us to express ourselves and communicate sincerely with others.

Why did you choose the world of fashion to express yourself?
P.R. : Nothing was decided at the outset. I’d say it was all down to chance and the people I met. I was in my twenties when I discovered photography, and I was quickly won over by the passion and love of this means of expression. But nothing was decided at beforehand. I’d say that it was chance and encounters that did the rest… I quickly realized that fashion photography would allow me to be creative, because it’s above all a photography of the imaginary, of elegance and reverie. This has always suited me perfectly, and still does today.

What do you think is so special about Paris, and can it still be considered the capital of fashion?
P.R. : Paris is and always will be the capital of fashion, that’s for sure. It’s a very inspiring city for artists. On a more personal level, Paris has given me a lot – I could even say it’s adopted me. I’ve benefited a lot from Paris, its fashion, its architecture, its museums, etc. It’s a city that transports you. Crossing a bridge in Paris can easily feel like a dream. In short, I have a deep love for this city, which is charmingly nicknamed the City of Light.

What does “being a photographer” mean to you today?
P.R. : Without hesitation, I’d say it means being very lucky. It’s a wonderful way to express yourself, to share feelings and emotions.

Your signature is instantly recognizable, and time has no effect on your images. What’s your secret?
P.R. : There’s no secret or precise recipe in my work. It’s probably the way I approach photography that gives you this impression. It’s when you move away from reality that you move away from dates and specific time, and somehow enter a new dimension.

When people say “Paolo Roversi”, they often think of Polaroids. What have Polaroids brought to your approach to photography ?
P.R. : Polaroids in 20×25 cm format, which came out in 1980, have been of great benefit to me, because they are a film with very specific characteristics, enabling me to work with a large-format camera and therefore with specific optics. It also implies a slower, more meditative approach. As a result, the results are different, unconventional, with very strange colors, often not very realistic, and not very smooth contrasts. I like to get away from realism in photography; I’m always struggling with reality. I like to go towards the dream and the imaginary. Traditional films, on the other hand, were more faithful to reality.

You say you love chance and accidents. Can you tell us why?
P.R. : Yes, of course. Every accident is like a gift from heaven that takes me away from reality. On the other hand, coincidences and accidents allow me to be surprised myself. I hate it when an image is faithful to what I can see just before I make it.

In an interview you said you were a legendary nostalgic. How does this translate into your images?
P.R. : Some time ago, I read a beautiful phrase by Jean Genet: “To create is always to speak of childhood. You have to dream for a long time to act with grandeur, and dreams are cultivated in darkness”. Does this answer your question?

The people you immortalize, whoever they may be, all have that special je ne sais quoi in their eyes. What’s your secret for achieving this result?
P.R. : For me, the gaze is the mirror of the soul, so I try to go deep, to pierce the intimate. To achieve this, my subject and I need to reflect each other, to develop what I call a photographic friendship.

What does Paolo Roversi’s ideal woman look like?
P.R. : She’s undoubtedly multi-faceted and reflected in my photos.

What does beauty mean to you?
P.R. : I can’t define beauty, it’s a mystery to me. I’m always looking for what or who it looks like. Sometimes I seem to be getting closer to it, other times I seem to be getting further away. But in the end, I like the idea that there is no recipe, and that beauty remains a mystery.

What’s your take on the current evolution of photography, but also on social networks?
P.R. : Unfortunately, I think we’re experiencing a lot of image pollution these days, and that’s a shame. Bringing an image into the world is a great responsibility. And as Wim Wanders used to say: “Let’s make more beautiful images and we’ll have a more beautiful world”.

You’re very attentive to talent and the idea of transmission seems to be important to you, am I wrong?
P.R. : Yes, transmission is very important to me. As soon as my schedule permits, I give courses at ECAL (an art school in Lausanne), or even give lectures to share my idea and philosophy of photography.

What is the memory that has marked you most over the years?
P.R. : There are so many, I can’t answer without offending someone.

What still motivates you when you wake up in the morning?
P.R. : The idea of photographing again and again, of surprising myself, of making even more beautiful images.

What if you hadn’t been a photographer?
P.R. : It’s hard to imagine myself doing anything else…  writer, perhaps!

Any final words?
P.R. : In the end, photography is simply a gesture of love.


Until July 14, 2024
Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode
10, Av. Pierre1er de Serbie Paris 16e

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