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The Swiss – Being Able To Keep Your Own Identity

‘The Swiss’ is an homage to my chosen home; Switzerland. It is what Switzerland means to me and how I see Switzerland and the Swiss.

I’m a Swede myself, but I have lived in Switzerland off and on for over 13 years now. My wife is Swiss and my daughter was born here, so you can say that I’m invested in this country.

The book was shot over a period of 4 years and it was a way for me to get to know Switzerland and the Swiss better. I left Sweden when I was 11 and have not really lived there since. Every place that I have lived, be it either Belgium, Germany or the UK I have always tried to make it my home and to find a way to relate to the country, its people and the culture. I think it is important to integrate yourself, but at the same time being able to keep your own identity.

Two wrestlers going at it in the sawdust ring.

There was never any real defined focus for this project, except that it is about my Switzerland. So I basically photographed everything that interested me, people, places, cultural events etc. The project started with me going to various cultural events in Switzerland, such as Swiss wrestling, which is basically two people in a ring of sawdust trying to get one another’s shoulders on the ground. It probably the most popular sport in rural Switzerland. From this, it evolved into a road trip project, where I would take day trips from my home. Remember that Switzerland is a small country and you can drive to one end and back in a day, so you can cover a lot in just one day. I would normally start out in the morning with a general idea of a route and then just take it from there. Stop and get out when I saw something or someone interesting, get on the road again and repeat. I avoided larger cities because I think they are becoming more and more uniform. You find the same chain stores and the individuality of the cities have a tendency to get lost. Most of the photographs from the series are from these road trips and from cultural events. Along the way I realised that I would also like to take more formal portraits so I started reaching out to people and asking them if I could take their portrait in their homes. I really liked this part of the project. Since most of the subjects for these portraits were much younger than me, it gave me insight to what the Swiss youth are about, what makes them tic etc.

The book form as an end result for this project was natural for me. I love photo books, this will sound like repetition, but I do think that the photo book form is the ultimate form for a project like this. It gives you enough flexibility to show the whole project and it is something that you can pick-up in 50 years and revisit. I like exhibitions as well but they are much less permanent and they tend to only have space for a limited number of photographs, unless you are a very famous photographer. For me personally, the book form was the right choice, and I still have the flexibility to exhibit the work.

Klausenpass towards Glarus

I can’t say that I have ever taken a conscious decision to become an artist. I’m a photographer. I started photographing when I was young. My grandfather worked as a tool maker for Hasselblad which looking back probably influenced my journey to where I am now in some part. He never really talked a lot about cameras and unfortunately, he was not enthusiastic about photography, but I remember going to the Hasselblad Christmas parties that the company organised for the staff’s children and in my case grandchildren. I also remember having a poster of the earth photographed on some NASA mission with a Hasselblad camera. I guess this led to a subconscious fondness for photography.

The Swiss national “event” dish; A plate of Raclette at the ESAF 2013

There is probably no such thing as a normal day for me. Every day is full of sorting through ideas in my head, research, self-marketing, looking at photographs (my own and others). I would love to just photograph, but for every project, I’m working on I also need to do research, get permissions, plan trips etc. So that does take up a lot of my time.

The self-marketing part is probably the most difficult, there’s this little part of me that hates doing it and kind of sits on my shoulder telling me that people will find me annoying when I do it. But I have come to learn that it is a necessary evil. You have to work hard to get your work seen. It doesn’t come automatic; there is too much work out there for that to happen. Coming to the photography game relatively late in life it has been a struggle to build up a network, and my hard work is only slowly starting to pay off. With The Swiss now being out and getting good reviews as well as an upcoming exhibition of some of The Swiss photographs. But there have been many times where I just wanted to stop. But as with anything else in life, the trick is to keep going and to never give up. Good things normally come to those who work hard and don’t give up, at least that’s my hope!

Couple dressed up, at the Comicon fair ‘Fantasy Basel’ in Basel

At the moment I’m working on getting my second book Rote Villa out. So this is taking up a lot of my time currently. Finding the right publisher, authors, making interviews, translating, editing and sequencing etc. etc. Sadly, to find time to actually photograph is probably my biggest struggle.

I’m influenced by everything around me, it can be music, films, paintings, photography etc. But the photographers that have influenced me the most are Lars Tunbjörk and Alec Soth. Lars Tunbjörk’s ‘Vinter’ and ‘Home’ and Alec Soth’s ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ are my three favourite books of all time

When looking at other people’s work there are two things that are important to me personally; the work has to be especially pleasing to my eye and/or it has to reach me on an emotional level. One or the other has to be present, if both are, then great!

You can buy Christian’s book ‘The Swiss’ here.

Christian Nilson

I am a hard working, motivated and dedicated autodidact photographer. I’m Swedish living in Switzerland for a total of 12 years now. A member of The Swiss Association for Contemporary Photography NEAR and represented by the Swiss photographer agency 13 Photo AG. My roots are in street photography but nowadays I mostly work on short- and long-term

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