“I am just obsessed by the beauty of botanical drawings,” says Kenji Toma, describing his new book, The Most Beautiful Flowers. It’s a homage to Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s celebrated book of watercolours, Choix des plus belles fleurs [The most beautiful flowers], which was first published in France back in 1827 – long before colour photography was available. “His images were illustrated with the purpose of replicating the botanic subject as close to reality as possible,” says Toma. “I’m more interested in doing the exact opposite with photography.” His series shows hyperreal, unrealistically perfect images of flowers, each shot with the same lens, angle, and lighting, and delicately arranged with pins and armature wire. Going one step further than nature, they put a contemporary spin on the concept of the botanical encyclopaedia.
“The first time my American agent came here, she said ‘I can’t believe you do all these pictures in this little room’,” laughs Paolo Roversi as he looks around the modest space he’s used as his studio for more than three decades. The Italian remains one of the world’s most sought-after fashion photographers, having forged his reputation during the mid-1980s shooting inspired catalogues for designers such as Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto, in an age when creatives were given unparalleled freedom of expression. Yet his studio is just a room in an unremarkable building in a nondescript arrondissement of southern Paris, furnished with battered chairs and old blankets. He wouldn’t have it any other way.