An Exhibition of Ezra Petronio Polaroid Portraits Opens in Zurich

In 30 years, Ezra Petronio has shot over 4,000 Polaroid portraits. That evens out to about 130 per year, but it’s not just the quantity that’s impressive: Petronio’s subjects range from fashion greats like Karl Lagerfeld and Azzedine Alaïa to contemporary designers like Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, with editors, stylists, assistant designers, and a broad group of creatives sprinkled in the mix. Many of these personalities appear in his debut gallery show, “Ezra Petronio Stylistics,” at the Galerie Gmurzynska’s spaces at Paradeplatz and Talstrasse in Zurich. 

Petronio’s Polaroids appear in the opening pages of Self Service, the magazine he founded with Suzanne Koller in 1994. They’re something of a fashion world yearbook—if you’re anyone, you’re in there. “The idea was to really record the diversity of creative minds that we engage with at Self Service,” Petronio says. “It was fascinating to do so with established designers and newcomers and then the satellite creative industries around fashion that we flirt with—contemporary art, music, cinema.”

Louise Bourgeois photographed by Ezra Petronio

Split between the gallery’s two locations, the show collects true-to-size Polaroids in one space and blows them up to several meters tall in the other, offering a new perspective on Petronio’s well-known work. “Seeing them at that size enhances the raw emotion and beauty of the person, but also there are these textures that are magical that you really take for granted when they’re small,” he says. 

Among the creative classes represented are Petronio mainstays like Malgosia Bela and Anja Rubik, though it’s the lesser-celebrated stars and reclusive celebrities that make the work really stand out. You can find a portrait of Louise Bourgeois, who spent three hours with Petronio in her studio while an assistant meticulously picked off a paper collage from the wall to create the photographer’s signature white background, only to sit for a single image. There’s Vivienne Westwood, who lured Petronio to the bathroom and perched atop the toilet—the only white wall she could find at Milan Fashion Week. There’s Yohji Yamamoto, Jay Z, and even “Kim’s husband…” (that’d be Kanye West). 

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