Timeless Time, Palazzo Reale review — capturing the unconscious

Mar 09, 2023

As the influential psychiatrist, Carl Jung, once said:

To confront a person with his own shadow is to show him in his own light.

‘Timeless Time’ at Palazzo Reale in Milan featured 89 black-and-white works by the iconic photographer, Vincent Peters. It was, at a glance, an exhibition of elegantly shot celebrities, but on a second take, a portrait of the collective unconscious.

Amanda Seyfried, Paris 2015 © Vincent PetersAmanda Seyfried, Paris 2015 © Vincent Peters

Timeless shots of familiar faces

A grand finale for Milan Fashion Week, Peters’ pieces were perfectly positioned at the heart of the Palazzo Reale, thanks to Comune di Milano-Cultura, which is now host to exhibitions by Bosch, Bill Viola and a collaboration of Lombardy’s thirteen state museums.

Having worked with the complete index of A-listers, the prominent photographer has an understanding of what captures the lens beyond being easy on the eyes. The golden boy of fashion photography, whose work has graced the covers of every major label across the globe, had his black and white pieces curated by the Head of Global Photovogue, Alessia Galviano, displayed in Appartamento dei Principi. Fitting for a Prince’s Penthouse, the Baroque embellished walls of the 17th-century apartment served as the backdrop for the most recognised faces of cinema, fashion and entertainment. Neoclassical décor assisted Peters’ intention to remove time as a medium for this exhibition. Paired with warm spotlighting, the Royal living space was transformed into a gallery paying homage to timeless story-telling.

Bethany Robbins, London 2018 © Vincent PetersBethany Robbins, London 2018 © Vincent Peters

Intimate portraits: Transcending celebrity status

It’s often said that the hardest part of acting is reacting: no words, just responding to what you receive. A master photographer shooting film stars certainly made for masterpieces of ‘mood’. Each picture carried a gravitas of light and shade, both stylistically, in a neo-realist renaissance, but also in the setting of each subject that conveyed their darkness and light, sadness and joy, happiness and pain, confusion and relief, trauma and revelation.

Emma Watson, London, 2012 © VincentPetersEmma Watson, London, 2012 © Vincent Peters

While the most famed people in the world may seem like easy subject matter for exquisite photography, the challenge that Peters conquered was making the viewer look beyond the striking stardom, into a new narrative we haven’t seen before. Actor John Malkovich, the man of many faces, was juxtaposed in a series of four shots, coming together to create a single portrait of dynamic laughter. Not one of the four moments seemed to capture a definite expression, and with murky low contrast, the implication seemed to be that darkness plagues even the greatest jesters of comedy.

Scarlett Johannsson, New York 2017 © Vincent PetersScarlett Johannsson, New York 2017 © Vincent Peters

A narrative of true timelessness

Timelessness was certainly a key theme in his portraits of Italian actress and model Monica Bellucci. Peters captured every stage of the icon’s life, from the beginnings of her landmark career, through her journey of motherhood, to a gravitas of maturity that seemed even more enviable than her perfectly symmetrical complexion. But Galviano’s most prominent feature subject for the exhibition was the young actress that stole every young man’s heart as the feisty Hermione in the Harry Potter film franchise of the early 2000s, but this time, with nothing except a powdery face. Her iconic glistening eyes seemed to say:

No one will ever know who I really am.

Charlize Theron, New-York, 2008 © Vincent PetersCharlize Theron, New-York, 2008 © Vincent Peters

One of the most striking images removed the identity of the subject, showing that Peters doesn’t need to shoot celebrities to leave a mark. Feet dangling off the end of a long elegant deck chair, hovering over a large checkerboard of Mediterranean tiles, light bouncing off a halo-like white swimsuit, with a live cigarette smoked by a face hidden beneath the wide-brimmed designer sun hat, this is an image that made you forget that outside it was a blistering cold Milanese day.

Seeing Peters’ remarkable work in such a thoughtfully curated environment was an undeniable experience of photographic storytelling at its best.


Timeless Time at Palazzo Reale ran from Jan. 12 to Feb. 26, 2023

For more photography to keep you inspired, discover five amazing photographers taking an intimate approach to climate change.


Credits for the Main photo: Bethany Robbins, London 2018 © VincentPeters

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