Paolo Roversi’s dreamy images have sent this reviewer’s heart aflutter for many a year, so if this review is biased, don’t shoot the messenger. The painterly quality with which Roversi imbues his soft-focus photos takes them out of our age and puts them in one not so much defined in historical terms, but in terms of literary fiction, of worlds made up by the sheer force of human imagination.
This Italian – and according to Roversi himself, he is very Italian in the art historical sense – has produced a stunning number of stunning photos in publications ranging from Vogue Italia to Another. A source of constant consternation for me has always been the lack of books about Roversi’s work. This past January, during my visit to a Roversi exhibit at 10 Corso Como in Milan, I spent a significant amount of time in nail-biting anxiety in front of a table strewn with Roversi’s books, some rare ones, weighing the heft of my wallet and the capacity of my luggage. What I am trying to say is that any time a Roversi book comes out, it’s an event. And so the new book of Roversi’s images of Dior’s haute couture, published by Rizzoli is a welcome gift. It’s a fantastically well-executed book, one that gives Roversi’s otherworldly images their due.
The book’s 168 large format pages contain a hundred photos of dresses that run the gamut from those created by Christian Dior himself, through Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and to the latest designer to helm the house, Maria Grazia Chiuri. At $125, the book is far from cheap, but handling the cloth-bound tome and the thick matte paper stock tells you that at least you know what you are paying for. The substantial weight of each page, the tactile experience of turning over the leaves, adds to Roversi’s decidedly analogue aesthetic.
The book is interspersed with inserts of Roversi’s hand-written letters and notes. In one, written to a model, was a sentiment that is intuitively known to fashion photographers, but I have never seen it expressed so clearly, “A woman, a dress… a fashion photo is often this double portrait…”
When you hold this notion of double-portrait in mind while looking at Roversi’s fashion images, they come alive in a new way, more immediate, more present, more fully formed. They demand a kind of a newfound attention.
Roversi is one of those photographers who reminds you that photography is not merely a medium of representation, but one of reflection and story-telling. In the essay accompanying the book, the Italian philosopher Emanuele Coccia underscores this aspect of Roversi’s work, “No photographer has questioned the non-referential power of photography better than Paolo Roversi. In his hands, photographs cease to be mere traces of the real and become instruments for the active transfiguration of the world.” Indeed.
DIOR IMAGES: PAOLO ROVERSI, Rizzoli New York, 2018. All images © Paolo Roversi, courtesy of the publisher.