Nicolas Polli's unpredictable work gives new life to daily objects
With a knack for playing with expectations, the photographer puts “undervalued” items under the microscope.
- Roz Jones
- 1 November 2022
Nicolas Polli has been up to a lot since we last spoke to him; he’s founded both Atelier Ciao, his independent graphic design studio, and publishing house Ciao Press. He’s also become a teacher in Bienne, where he’s set up a new life and practice, and picked up a tasty hobby as an amateur pizzaiolo. It’s a far cry from crafting a fictional meteorological event complete with its own visual archive, website and book, but it did allow the multidisciplinary creative to slow down and reconnect with the “undervalued” and untapped visual potential of the objects around him.
Nicolas jokes that he now prefers shooting a zucchini more than people because “they essentially don’t move and can shoot them for hours without complaints”. But it was high-speed snowboarding scenes that first got him into photography. After sustaining a gnarly injury that put an end to his snowboarding days, Nicolas picked up the camera and began documenting his friends. In being rejected twice from the school of his dreams, he dabbled in graphic design as an alternative to photography.
GalleryNicolas Polli: When Strawberries Will Grow on Trees, I Will Kiss U (Copyright © Nicolas Polli, 2020)
He started shooting daily life in 2011 in the middle of his BA. But his “rudimental” skills only developed when he challenged himself to take a picture a day for 176 days while in Berlin, pursuing a graphic design internship some years after. Late nights and long hours limited Nicolas to only shooting still life, so he started shooting in his kitchen with whatever he could get his hands on. Setting his camera aside to focus on art direction and graphic design while at the art university Ecole Cantonal d’art de Lausanne, Nicolas decided to pick it up again during the Covid-19 lockdown. It was not for nought as he's still keen to employ his graphic design skills, noting that “I treat photography as if I was designing a poster". He adds: “my lights are really graphical, my compositions have pretty strong and dark shadows, my objects are always sharp and defined.”
Throughout his work, you’ll see daily objects expressed in entirely new contexts: hot sauce mounted on glass jars and bottle caps curiously propped up on loaves of bread. Whether it’s for his 2020 project Homelife Stilllife or his commission work for ECAL or Das Magazin, Nicolas arrives at these painterly compositions through a mix of sheer faith and that sharp visual intuition. “The way I compose my images is pretty much spontaneous. In time, I developed what I like and what I don’t, just by doing things and making mistakes,” he notes, adding that “I enjoy it so much because, until the end, what I’m doing looks ugly, and then at one point – by trying and trying over again – something clicks! And finally, it makes sense to me.”
In our last encounter, Nicolas played off our inability to discern fact from fiction. Now, the artist relies on our fragile relationship with overlooked daily objects. “If we see a fork then change its shape, we’re immediately triggered as we understand what that object is, but we also understand that something is off and unusual,” he says. And this surreality is nudged along by the interplay of familiar textures and forms, made unfamiliar through their obscure arrangement. In one image from the lockdown project When Strawberries Will Grow on Trees, I Will Kiss U, a banana’s tendrils invade what’s left of a croissant – with a few cigarette butts sprinkled in for good measure. Weird right? But it just works, and Nicolas found that “the project helped me to better understand myself and my emotions through my routines and daily life”. He loved it so much, the series became a book published by his very own Ciao press.
Nicolas Polli: When Strawberries Will Grow on Trees, I Will Kiss U (Copyright © Nicolas Polli, 2020)
About the Author
Roz (he/him) joined It’s Nice That for three months as an editorial assistant in October 2022 after graduating from Magazine Journalism and Publishing at London College of Communication. He’s particularly interested in publications, archives and multi-media design.