Silvia Rosi captures fringed fashion in a new series of self-portraits

Silvia Rosi captures fringed fashion in a new series of self-portraits

Rising star photographer Silvia Rosi combines conventions of West African studio photography, ancient Italian architecture and the drama of fringed fashion in a new series of regal self-portraits 

Villa Boschetti, a 15th-century feudal palace-turned-mansion near Modena, Italy, is a structure familiar to Silvia Rosi. Firstly, because it’s located in San Cesario sul Panaro, the small village in which the Italian-Togolese artist grew up. The local community often holds small festivals in its gardens, she explains, so she has spent time there ever since she was young. Secondly, because her mother and stepfather were married in the Villa – in one of the thick-walled, frescoed rooms she photographed herself in for our September Style Special issue, wearing pieces from the Autumn/Winter 2020 collections. She recognised its elaborately painted blue walls from their wedding photographs.

But Rosi – who won the Jerwood/Photoworks Award this year – wasn’t drawn to the Villa simply for sentimental reasons. Ever since her time studying at the London College of Communication, she has interrogated and explored the conventions of West African studio portraiture, a set of traditions and tropes which connects her to her Togolese heritage by way of her family photo albums. ‘On the outside of the Villa, there are frescoes of fake painted doors and windows, which were made after its refurbishment,’ she says. ‘They remind me of how West African photographers would use backdrops to create the illusion of a space.’

Top, £399; dress, worn underneath, £749, both by Boss. Boots, worn throughout, £810, by Jil Sander by Lucie and Luke Meier. Earring, £353, by Petar Petrov

Rosi often works with costumes and painstakingly selected props, recreating old images of her mother and other family members for photographs and short films. Reorienting her focus to wearing fashion ‘felt very new!’ she says. But the drama of an elongated Salvatore Ferragamo column dress, with its long looped ribbons and tassels, or the jet bead fringing swinging from the sleeves of a Prada coat, feel like an apt homage to her West African predecessors and their elaborately attired clients.

Many of those photographers would even have started out as tailors, she explains. The tailor’s shop and the photographic studio often coexisted under the same roof; tailors would moonlight as photographers for some extra income. Using a cable release, Rosi captured herself both indoors and outdoors, as they would have. (They worked mostly outside, to sidestep the need for expensive lighting equipment). Her poses – strong, grounded, dynamic and regal – are both a tribute to their work, and her own instinct. ‘A feeling of the moment,’ she says.

The story serves as a marker of a period of time spent in San Cesario, which she temporarily relocated back to from her home in London when Covid-19 first hit Europe. Poised, expressive, and reflective, the resulting images look back upon her own heritage, both Togolese and Italian, and forwards, to the evolution of her artistic practice. A feeling of the moment, indeed. §

These photographs originally featured in the September 2020 issue of Wallpaper* (W*257) – on newsstands now and available for free download here

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