Words by Claudia Bigongiari
All images © Nicolas Polli
Swiss born in 1989, Nicolas Polli is a photographer and graphic designer. His attitude to images began when he was young and with the passion of snowboard, but after an accident he became the one taking pictures to his friends on the snow and designing logos for their sportive clothes. He first studied visual communication at SUPSI (The University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland) and gained some experience within fashion photography. Then he attended the Ecal (University of Art and Design Lausanne) master in art direction, where he deepened all aspects and techniques around images, realising how more fascinating for him was a simple piece of paper or any common object than photographing people.
In fact, still life becomes the genre where Nicolas feels more comfortable in, even though he doesn’t like (and need) to define his practice into a style. Everything he realises stays on the border between reality and fiction. He marries the philosophy of Tbjorn Rodland when he says that everything takes inspiration somewhere, it’s only important to don’t let people see from where, and it becomes something new. He is one of Nicolas favourite sources like Tayo Onorato, Nico Krebs, Fischli and Weiss, Erin O’Kefee… He draws inspiration from everything people do, especially objects they fill their lives with. “Even when I’m at the supermarket I can find what makes me say ‘wow I need to take this picture’”.
He calls himself an “image builder” because he creates ad hoc his pictures, setting up every single element, producing new realities. For example, “in Ferox the forgotten archive, despite the documentary approach, everything is a construction”. The series (2018) collects all the materials concerning Ferox, the 3rd moon gravitating around Mars discovered in the 40s after a finding of meteorites (feroxities) in the Swiss Alps. The research project and the landing organisation stopped for lack of funds and all the material was hidden. Nicolas produces a photo book about the “forgotten” documentation of Ferox, where images are real but everything is a fiction. It was the Ecal’s final project and a possibility for the photographer to experiment and test all levels of his education.
After the studies, photo books, magazines and graphic design cover a great part of Nicolas artistic direction. He’s working with a lot of photographers producing their books. “I love books, to me they are the best way to benefit art, everything I do I think it in the form of a book more than an exhibition or something else”.
In 2012 he made the lucky editorial experimentation founding YET independent magazine with Salvatore Vitale, friend and photographer, who shared the same need of having a space to present the contemporary photographic production. And to present it in a way the most respectful of artists intentions.
During its 10 years of activity, YET became a magazine internationally recognised and in 2018 it won the Swiss Design Award. Unfortunately for the numerous followers, the past summer YET published its last issue, n.12, one of the best according to Nicolas, because it combines the energy from when they started with all the experience gained by the time.
But Nicolas editorial activity doesn’t stop with YET magazine. Since 2018 he’s moving forward with another project: his own publishing house CIAO press. It was born because he couldn’t find anyone to publish Ferox the forgotten archive; “I don’t like much the idea of self publishing but since Ferox was a self edited project I needed another way to present it. CIAO was the most “me thing” I could find to produce the book”. The philosophy behind the publishing house is almost the same Nicolas puts inside everything he does. He’s questioning the book as an object, an everyday object, and ‘ciao’ encloses whatever makes a book: it needs the same tactility and lightness of the word “ciao”. It has to be simple and familiar, something that you can hold in your hand, simply as much as waving someone’s hello.
Within the friendliness of CIAO Nicola Polli published his last project When strawberries will grow on trees I will kiss you, which led us into a wide consideration about what is familiar nowadays and what makes us feel alone even though it’s part of our social routine.
The project came out last year during the first lockdown caused by the global pandemic emergency, and reflects a state of loneliness which is not specific of the historic crisis: it speaks to everyone every time. The quarantine has only increased a sentiment son of our society. A society that imposes to present ourselves always always productive, successful, even happy maybe? That imposes to built filters around us to mask what is really going on because it probably wouldn’t satisfy “the standards”. Again, we are on the border between fiction and reality.
With When strawberries will grow on trees I will kiss you Nicolas decides to create something about that loneliness to feel better himself. It started into his place, into his solitude, when he wasn’t that much productive or happy. Due to the Covid crisis, the photographer lost some clients and slowed down his job, probably for the first time in his life: all energies usually employed for working, were now concentrating on himself, on what he’d never dedicated time to, for example a sentimental life.
He was in bed eating pasta when a message of a girl friend simply asking what he was doing at the moment made him answer with another version of himself (that filter), “I’m working on a new project”. Because the version ’eating pasta in bed’ wasn’t cool enough.
But then he actually did something, taking some pictures, writing down some notes, the more he was working the more everything assumed an intimate and therapeutic role. “I realised the necessity of expressing myself, myself versus the society and versus my feelings. And taking care of myself”.
The images are built with everyday objects, he creates a relationship with them as if he would create one with a sentimental partner. But also with himself and his solitude. They are sorts of ready made, sculptures in a precarious balance where everything seems to fall down any moment but yet they stay there, suspended. Socks towers, combinations of food and kitchen utilities, of self routine’s objects and body parts, an heart drawn in the sink with beard hairs…
Food is a very important element into the imaginary of the photographer, (it will be also part of his future projects).
Their ironic and provocative sense make these images really attractive, since the beginning of the book cover. “Being not only a photographer but someone who studied visual communication, I enjoy playing with different canals to send the message to, for example on Instagram these images assume only an aesthetic value, they can’t communicate something more. The effective strength of the project is when the images are inside the book”.
The Instagram’s aesthetic Nicolas is mentioning, was in part responsabile of the loneliness and insecurity the series refers to. Instagram is with no doubt the greatest social media in the reproduction of images, but also full of negatives “it only increased my discomfort of that period and my discomfort continues… I realised how much I’m subjected and controlled by it, at the same time I can’t stop using it.”
Instagram reflects the society’s request of a “you” productive and successful, filling the feed with beautiful things, making you feel less then others. It creates a sort of competition between you and the entire Instagram, “a terrible social weight to stand’.
Even though the centre of When strawberries will grow on trees I will kiss you isn’t the battle against the social network, Nicolas explains the relationship with it through the book’s notes. According Instagram/society’s standards he can be considered someone with social and professional success, but out there everything becomes quite foggy: on one hand, these standards you are categorised in don’t necessarily reflect your self, your more or less activity and more or less happiness. On the other hand, we in primis tend to adapt to this filtered way, avoiding for example the “I’m eating pasta in bed” version.
The idea of something attractive only because covered under what doesn’t exist is to read into the project’s title. It is one of his poems, emblematic of Nicolas narrative. Everything, at first sight, seems beautiful and romantic, but the truth is different: strawberries don’t grow on trees, the border between reality and fiction becomes again very thin, the final quite bitter.
Here the real strength of the series: When strawberries will grow on trees I will kiss you unveils that bitter final, where Nicolas Polli shows the intimacy of his emotions and honestly presents the images of his solitude and insecurity.