A life spent in photography.
What does that mean?
It’s a great life because photography is a way to express oneself with a wonderful language, a universal language that doesn’t need to be translated or interpreted. That everyone can understand. It’s a language that is almost primitive.
Has anything changed over the years?
Something always changes. There are new experiences and encounters. It’s a sort of work-in-progress. For me, there’s no difference between my private life and my work life. If you are a photographer, you are always on, and your work life and private life are one and the same.
Do you always have your camera around your neck?
No. I am not one of those photographers that is scared to miss something. I’ve missed many photographs. Perhaps every photographer should write a book on the photographs not taken!
Do you have regrets?
No. I don’t have any regrets. I have the images in my memory, and that is just fine. Many painters didn’t paint everything they would have liked to and many writers didn’t express every thought in their minds.
Do you work a lot?
Yes. There is a saying I like – “Create like a god, be as generous as a king, and work like a slave.”
How do you work?
I work a lot. Work is important, and you can’t reach a level of real professionalism if you don’t put a lot of work in. Talent and the desire to do something aren’t enough. You need to produce. Making mistakes is important. I’ve learned from the disasters as well as from the successes.
Can you tell me about one of your disasters?
[He laughs ] I have had many. I remember when I took a trip to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. It’s a volcanic island. I came back without any photos. I couldn’t work. I was paralysed by the environment, by the light. Sometimes we make mistakes.
When did you have your first real success?
When I was 17. I did my first print in my basement at home in Ravenna. It was a very makeshift dark room, and my first print came out at five in the morning. I fell asleep so proud of myself. Then I have had other successes. For example, the first make-up campaign for Dior, which changed my career.
What about portraits?
I have done many. All of my photos are portraits to some extent and are always autobiographical. All of my work is autobiographical.
Does that include all of the amazing women?
I am lucky to photograph beautiful women. My work focuses on seeking out beauty, which must remain mysterious. I never try to give logical or rational meaning to what I do. There’s a world of untouchable, imponderable mystery in my studio.
Are there any women you remember in particular?
Many muses and many splendid, special, and inspiring women.
Are you refusing to name names?
No, I am not refusing. Some names that come to mind are Inès de la Fressange, Lucile de la Falaise, Kate Moss, Saskia, and Natalia Vodianova. I am doing a book on her. I have photographed her a lot and she has a unique beauty.
Do you fall in love with your models?
I fell in love with one. Laetitia. I married her, and we have three children. But there is always a platonic love between the photographer and the model. Every photograph is like a moment of seductive love even if there is no intercourse.
Have you photographed men?
Of course, and as the great photographer Nadar teaches the most valuable work does not stop at the superficial aesthetic aspect, to be of the highest value one has to dig inside the human soul.
Who stands out?
Sting, for example. I’ve photographed him various times.
Who are the photographers you admire most?
I’ve known Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, and Robert Frank well. They were teachers. We all need teachers.
Are you solitary?
I am solitary, but I love to frequent other photographers I’m friends with. I am open to meeting up with them. For example, I always see Peter Lindbergh, Snowdon…
Why do you live in Paris?
I ended up here by chance many years ago. For a provincial Italian, it was a dream to get to Paris.
Did you want to be a fashion photographer?
I didn’t come to Paris for fashion. Fashion found me by chance. I had friends that worked in that world, and it fascinated me. I became a fashion photographer without really choosing to be one. My star led me there.
Is there a lot of competition?
When I arrived in Paris, there was much less. Now with all of the new technologies – phones and digital cameras – everyone feels like a photographer, but that’s not the case. Photography is a real language, and there are many illiterate types around.
How does one defend himself?
That’s a real problem that is very delicate. There is this tremendous, unlimited number of images in circulation. There’s no criticism. It is chaos and nobody can make any sense of it!
Let’s see what happens. I will continue to do my work while staying true to myself. My way of working is simple. It is wonderful to work in the world of beauty and to be in contact with young people who are so fresh.
Do you feel old?
Yes, I do in terms of age. But I won’t think of retiring as long as I’m having fun. Tomorrow I’m doing a film for a new Azzedine Alaia perfume, and this is fun and exciting for me. I can’t wait for tomorrow so that we can try to create something new and beautiful.
Is Paris still a great city?
I look out at the Eiffel Tower from my balcony while smoking a Cuban cigar, and I think Paris is a great city. For fashion and for me, it is absolutely the centre of the universe. The big fashion shows and the big designers are still in Paris.
Which designers are near and dear to you?
Alaia, and Rei Kawakubo, the designer behind Comme des Garçons. And many others like Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, Nicolas Ghesquiere, and Raf Simons for Dior. I adore John Galliano who is back working, now for Margiela.
What about the death of Oscar de la Renta?
It is sad. He leaves a great void. I knew him.
Is the fashion world like a family?
Yes. We work together. We leave one another, we get back together. It is a big family and there’s mutual respect despite the jealousies and rivalries.
What about Italian fashion?
It’s important. There are important designers like Armani, Versace, Valentino, and Dolce & Gabbana who are highly successful. Then there are Pucci, Missoni, and Prada as well.
What kind of relationship do you have with the magazines?
I have a great relationship with Vogue Italia. I’ve known Franca Sozzani for many years, and there’s an intense collaboration there. Unfortunately, it’s hard today for the magazines, but I still defend paper. It’s more effective and exciting. I grew up in the world of paper, and I am fond of books.
Would you ever change jobs?
No. I would never change. I am fond of this job at this point. In this life, I can no longer change. Let’s see in the next life. I believe in reincarnation.
21st October, 2014
All images by kind permission and ©Paolo Roversi.