Pol captures glimpses of a "bizarre" country
A book by photographer Andri Pol brings out an often unintentionally funny side of a Switzerland between tradition and progress.
Pol is a representative of a generation of photo journalists and artists who take a relaxed look at the country and catches the eye with his refined sense of humour.
Do the Swiss have more comic potential than they know? Is there a Switzerland beyond chocolate, cheese and banks? The book Grüezi –which is a typically Swiss way of saying hello - shows the country and its people from an unusual perspective and in many colours.
The publishers praise the authors as "masters of disclosure" who realised that "Switzerland is stranger than Bhutan and Swaziland put together."
Anthropologist David Signer, who co-authored Grüezi – Strange Things in Heidiland, sums up the peculiarities of Switzerland.
"Where else do you see crash barriers decorated with baskets of geraniums? Where else do you see traffic roundabouts adorned with colourful frogs? Or designer manure heaps?
"It's not that the Swiss want to return to nature. They want the conveniences of urban civilization. A barnyard with an exit to the motorway," says Signer.
The book keeps the captions to the nearly 300 picutres laconically short. The reader often gets no more than a name and a postal code.
Reviewers have found similarities in Pol's pictures with the work of Britain's Martin Parr who is known for his somewhat grotesque humour and as a chronicler of our age.
Others highlighted Pol's eye for the droll, the bizzare or even exotic by juxtaposing elements that seemingly don't go together, such as Indian Bollywood actors in the Swiss Alps, a young Ninja fighter posing in front of a tractor, miniature chalets, flower decorations and inflatable swimming pools in rather unexpected places.
Markus Schürpf, a photo historian in Bern, says Pol stands out with his visual puns and a style that has been shaped by his assignments for national and international magazines.
"The focus is not on the human aspect necessarily. His pictures fit into the concept of infotainment media, but they go beyond it. You could probably say they make for excellent conversation starters."
Urs Stahel director of the Winterthur museum of photography draws a comparison with other Swiss photographers, notably Michael von Graffenried and his book Swiss Image from the 1980s.
"Pol's image of Switzerland is refreshing. It shows the country as a permanent Walt-Disney amusement park, not as a real country. As if Pol had been hopping from one event to the next."
The focus is on entertainment, underscored by a presentation which is reminiscent of pop design.
Having travelled across the language regions of Switzerland, the towns, suburbs and mountains, Pol in his book shows a many-faceted country with a multitude of mentalities and identities.
"It's a modern-day Switzerland, a self-confident country. It's no longer the critical and self-demeaning look of the post-1968 generation, and a far cry from the idyllic picture of a rural Switzerland in tune with the seasons of the year, like in the 1930s and 1940s," says Schürpf.
He points out it's too early to say what place Pol has in the historical context of Swiss photography.
"But it's safe to say that his pictures show a fine sense of humour, a rare commodity in Switzerland. He is also has a gift of putting a variety of elements into play. Look at the man who pushes his lawnmower up a steep patch of grass above a concrete wall, look at the chalet-like garden shed in the middle of these white walls of suburbia."
Stahel acknowledges Pol's work as a photo reporter and his lively pictures, but he wonders about the impact they have.
"He comes across as a witty and entertaining photographer, maybe not overly profound."
swissinfo, Urs Geiser
Swiss-born Andri Pol, 46, graduated from the photography class at the Royal College of Arts in London. He has worked as a freelance photographer for magazines mainly in Switzerland and Germany.
David Signer, 43, studied anthropology, psychology and linguistics in Switzerland and Israel. He was a university lecturer and worked with refugees before he became a journalist. From 1997 to 2000 he lived in western Africa.
The English version of the book Grüezi – Strange Things in Heidiland, is published by Kontrast publishers in Zurich.
It contains nearly 300 photos by Andri Pol and 21 texts by David Signer.
The original 352-page German version of Grüezi – Seltsames aus dem Heidiland has been on sale in bookshops since 2006.
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