As one of the fashion world’s pre-eminent photographers, Paolo Roversi has had plenty of time to ponder the nature of beauty. In his shoot for the 2020 Pirelli Calendar he’s sought to bring alive other elusive concepts too – femininity, tenderness and, most of all, love.
It’s these characteristics of a “feminine ideal” that he thinks are embodied in the character of Juliet from Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. And in “Looking for Juliet” he has cast eight actresses and models to get closer to the essence of Juliet in the 21st century.
The line up features Emma Watson, Yara Shahidi, Indya Moore, Rosalia, Claire Foy, Chris Lee, Kristen Stewart and Mia Goth.
How do you see the character of Juliet?
Juliet is a woman of great moral value, one who was willing to sacrifice everything for love. She married her enemy. She was a rebel who pushed the boundaries. In just four days, she transmuted from a naïve, innocent girl into a heroine fighting everyone to save the value of love, to defend her loyalty towards her husband.
How did the idea of reliving Juliet’s story come about?
The idea of Juliet came to me because I have been exploring the themes of beauty and love for several years. I have also investigated femininity and tenderness. Juliet is all of this. When I think of a feminine ideal, I think Juliet is one of the few characters who successfully embodies it in herself.
Did you find Juliet in the end?
You can never find Juliet because she is a dream, a figment for which you can only aim. You can never stop searching for a dream, but it is hard to define, not unlike beauty. The closer you get, the more profound a mystery it appears. It is the same with Juliet.
Let’s talk about the cast…
They are not just amazing actresses and singers. Behind each of them, there is a humanity and a moral standing of remarkable value.
So they are ideal women to revive the values of Juliet...
They are eternal values. There is a Romeo and a Juliet in everyone. It is invigorating to rediscover the strength that stems from the past, that touches the present and is projected into the future. Very strong values like these will always be real.
Does Romeo disappear among so many women?
No, of course not. Romeo does not disappear; he is a key part of the story. Without Romeo, there would be no Juliet and, when they unite, they become love together.
Is the message of Romeo and Juliet still pertinent?
The Calendar is a universal message of love and beauty because I think that beauty and love know no boundaries of culture and religion. They are universal.
The setting is Verona. How did you find it?
Verona is the stage of this story and it still lends itself as the ideal setting today. It is as if the ghosts of Romeo and Juliet still haunt the streets. It is hard to see Verona differently. This is what I see through my eyes and hear through my ears. Juliet and Romeo’s voices are in the air.
What was the experience of taking photographs for the Pirelli Calendar like for you?
It was a wonderful experience for me, a great challenge and, at last, the opportunity to tell a story because often my work is just illustrative, more aesthetic. This time, I could tell a complete story that allowed me to step away from photography.
In today’s world of smartphones, everyone feels like a photographer. Has the meaning of photography shifted?
Photography is not a picture taken with an iPhone. It is a language that not everyone speaks, not unlike literature, music and painting. Taking pictures does not make you a photographer. You need to study for years; you need to put your heart into it.