Modeling contracts don’t come with a career longevity clause. One minute you’re the face of the moment, staring up from newsstands everywhere, and the next thing you know some teen from Kazakhstan has bumped you off your perch. That’s why the most surprising thing about “Guinevere,” fashion photographer Paolo Roversi’s latest exhibition, isn’t his subject — beautiful girl alternating between couture ensembles and stark nudity — but the time span involved.
Roversi has been making images of the model in question, Guinevere van Seenus, for the past 12 years. “I am never tired of taking a picture of her,” he insists. “It’s always exciting, always inspiring.” The collection of photographs are up at the Pace/MacGill gallery through June 14.
The two met in what he calls “a very classic way” — she came to his studio on a go-see — but their professional relationship has lasted beyond a few Polaroids snapped against a white wall. According to Roversi, who calls her his muse, their work together is a collaboration of sorts. Van Seenus “is really a kind of artist,” the Paris-based photographer explains. “She brings a lot of things to the story, to the picture. She completely transforms herself in front of the lens. It’s much more than the normal idea of a model, just a girl you put in a dress and she smiles in front of the camera.”
And while all 24 photos in the show are of the same woman, they showcase van Seenus’ ability to shape-shift before the camera, from proper bourgeoise in a tweed Yohji Yamamoto suit to nymph in a side-slit gown, also by the designer. In one image, Roversi focuses in on her mouth so that only her lips, in extreme closeup, are visible.
Van Seenus, who was featured in Nineties ad campaigns for Chanel, Jil Sander and Versace, is now 30 and still has a runway career. She walked in Prada and Alexander McQueen’s fall shows, and could be seen recently in Chanel’s Miami poolside extravaganza for the house’s cruise collection.
She likes working with Roversi because of his languid shooting style, which includes “slow lunches with wine in the garden, where good food is as important as the clothes or the makeup.” And she says their work together doesn’t involve any of the icky Pygmalion associations with the word “muse”: “When I sit in front of him I feel safe. I ‘understand.’ He sees far past simply physical attributes. He sees the person and appreciates all the odd and beautiful things that make them an individual.”
Roversi plans to turn the photos into a book at some point, but makes it clear there is no expiration date on their work together. “I had a shooting with her one month ago, I have another one next week, so the collaboration is still going on and is still alive.” He adds, “This exhibition is not the end of a story. It’s just the middle.”
PHOTO BY PAOLO ROVERSI/COURTESY OF PACE MACGILL GALLERY