Known primarily as a fashion photographer, Roversi dedicated this series to travel photography, using subtle colours and dream-like sequences, to speak about India, which he presents as a gentle and hopeful country.
What fascinates you about India?
India is a fantastic country, completely far from us, completely different in the philosophy of life. I travelled to different places, to the east coast, to Madras and Madurai, and all I can say is: I like this country very much.
What did you intend to show with your pictures?
My intention was to show an India that is very sweet and smiley; not an India that is very desperate and destroyed by poverty. I wanted to show the very sweet people and the sweet country, full of love and full of hope. I tried to capture the smile of India, not the tears. I didn’t try to take pictures like a tourist. I tried to take something more intimate, to produce more intimacy with India.
This travel reportage about this country is now being presented for the first time. What distinguishes it from your other works, from your fashion photography?
You know, it is very similar. For me photography is always a portrait. If I take the portrait of a model or of an Indian person or of a little market – it is the same. It is always a portrait: for me, photography is always a portrait of something.
What was your encounter with the Indian population like? How did you get close to the people you photographed?
When I work I always go closer to the people. The camera is a kind of license; if you have a camera you can go close. And I’m very gentle and very peaceful with the people. Normally they trust me very quickly, so I can go close to them.
How do you go about selecting your motifs? How do you decide?
It’s just a feeling. When I’m attracted by a subject, I photograph it; if not, I don’t. I like it when I see something that touches me and produces an emotion in me, then I take a picture to acknowledge this image. It’s that simple. It’s like when you sit at a table full of food, you chose what you want, you pick from one plate something you like; you won’t eat everything on the whole table.
It seems that by using many individual portraits and objects – flowers, linens, buildings – you create a narrative of the whole. Were do you see the expressiveness in the details?
When I take a picture of a detail, then I tell a story. And then your details become expressive. For me everything in the frame, in the little square, is important. The colour, the wind, the mood. With my pictures I want to evoke just simply love. I think taking a picture is almost a question of love for me.
What does your photographic process look like?
You know I never try to analyse my work, I try to keep it very fluid and indefinite. I don’t like to explain what I do or what I try to do; I don’t like to understand and to analyse what I’m doing. I like to keep everything completely indefinite. So I never completely plan my photography: I always leave a space to chance, to things which happen unexpectedly. I like that, and I don’t want to plan my picture precisely; if not I am always disappointed when I see it. I prefer to be a part of a fate that’s completely free.
There is a great tenderness and enormous sensitivity in the images. How do you manage to leave the role of pure observer behind, and become part of the setting?
It is very hard to explain. This is my work, I am a photographer. This work is to be very very close to my subject and to have this intimate exchange with my subject. And it is always a sensitive portrait in a way, in every picture. So concerning my protagonists, I give to them and take from them.
Your images immerse the viewer in the atmosphere of a gallery of paintings. Which art movement has influenced you in particular. What references do you take and why?
I think I’m influenced of course by the iconography of my youth, of my younger years. It was the Italian Renaissance and its paintings, or painters like Vermeer and Thomas Gainsborough that really inspired me. Light is the most important thing in photography, and I think it is always important to retain the hope, the dream and the imagination. And beauty is very important for me – it is a big driver of my work.
What function does the camera have in your work?
The technical side is very important, but I am not obsessed by it. Of course I like to work with cameras, with films, but I’m very open to accidents, to things that happen and, in the end, to things I haven’t seen before. I enjoy unexpected things and being surprised. The camera I used for this series was the Leica M6 with a Noctilux 50mm lens. The camera is very light, easy to manipulate, easy to deal with, sharp with the light. I always like to work with wide open lenses, completely open, and the Noctilux is fantastic, because what is in focus is really sharp.
What do you consider a good photo?
A photo that gives you an emotion and touches you somewhere is a good photo. If the photo expresses something for you – it’s a good photo.
Paolo Roversi began his career in 1970, with photo-journalistic assignments, but soon turned to a focus on fashion photography. He has produced campaigns for Dior, Cerruti, Valentino and Alberta Ferretti, among others. His work has been published in many international magazines, and presented in a number of monographs and exhibitions. Roversi is the author of the 2020 Pirelli calendar, and lives in Paris. Find out more about his work on his website and Instagram channel, as well as the website of the Leica Gallery Paris.
You can find a portfolio of Roversi’s work in LFI magazine 1.2024, to be released on December 23, 2023.