We chat to visual artist Aurélie Nydegger about her striking creative vision

Photography by Aurélie Nydegger: Champ du Repos 2021

Designer, photographer and filmmaker Aurélie Nydegger recently joined us for an internship to shine a light on our students with her stunning photographic content. Read all about her experience and what fuels her creativity.

If human consciousness were a pen, it would never run out of ink. The stories we tell mould us, teach us, inspire us and drive us until the notebook of life is complete. Visual storytelling, a fast-track to the visceral, is arguably the most impactful, and it is in this realm in which Aurélie Nydegger crystallises her dreams. The Swiss designer, photographer and filmmaker’s Instagram handle, philosophique portatif (portable philosophical), encapsulates her deeply narrative approach to her creative media – an approach that stays with the viewer like a negative afterimage on the retina. 

We recently had the pleasure of hosting Aurélie’s outstanding creativity when she joined us for an internship. Creating a striking portfolio of photographic content, she shone a light on our music, film, acting and VFX students. We will be sharing it all over the coming weeks on our social media – so be sure to follow our music and film/VFX/acting Instagram accounts!

Now that Aurélie has returned home to complete her photography degree, we asked her to reflect on her experience and to tell us more about her vision. 

Design by Aurélie Nydegger - Lucrezia 2021

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I'm 22 years old and I'm originally from the French side of Switzerland. I started my career with a five-year apprenticeship as a designer, specializing in communication, videography, photography and marketing. I quickly found that I was missing an artistic aspect in my job; working with companies doesn't always leave us the freedom to realize our own personal projects. I wanted to develop my skills via my own visual creations and projects, so I decided to study photography as an artist photographer in the CEPV of Vevey where I experimented for two years on documentary, experimental and social photography as an artist. The training courses were quite complementary and finally a logical continuation in my professional evolution. 

What have you been up to at Catalyst recently?

I had the pleasure of collaborating with Catalyst to produce photographic projects for each section of the school – Acting, Film, VFX and Music – to expand visual communication and offer new opportunities for Catalyst’s networks with documentary projects about individual students, mixing photography and interviews. 

“I really liked the school, I liked the atmosphere and the learning methods, not to mention the artistic universe and open-minded approach.”

Why did you reach out to Catalyst in the first place?

I had the ambition to come and do a bachelor's degree in Film Production at your school this coming year, because I really liked the school, I liked the atmosphere and the learning methods, not to mention the artistic universe and open-minded approach. So I thought why not offer my services, develop as a freelancer and artist inside a school and also see how Catalyst works from the inside. There is nothing more immersive than working for a structure to understand it.

You are a multi-talented creative, with a stunning portfolio of photography, graphic design and film. What would you say is the style or approach which unites all of your work?

For me photography and film are two very similar mediums. The difference is that in one medium we have moving images and in the other we have still images. When I create a photographic project I make it from A to Z like a film. The images make up a story accompanied by narrative or descriptive text in the same way as a storyboard and a script. The design and artistic production is very similar, except that I work alone with my models without a film crew behind me. Photography is an incredible medium for storytelling in the same way as film. These two mediums meet later in the conception into the design graphic part where I compose a photographic book. I put the script and the visuals in order to compose the storytelling.

“It's like a piece of music; it's always composed from the same notes, it's simply their placement that will change the nature of the project.”

How were you able to put your knowledge and skills into practice throughout the different shoots you organised with our students? 

I like to relate people's stories through photography, to show their personalities and mine in a simple portrait or landscape. My approach as an artist photographer is very documentary. I organised meetings with each student and we created a world together by simply sharing thoughts or small anecdotes. Then the machine started and we followed our instinct to make the project. Everyone invested personally to create a common magic. For me, my knowledge and skills are a medium, a working process in itself, which I repeat for each of my projects. It's like a piece of music; it's always composed from the same notes, it's simply their placement that will change the nature of the project. It was quite natural for me to mix scriptwriting, photography, communication and art together. 

How were you able to overcome the challenges set by Covid?

To be honest, Covid was not an obstacle for me. On the contrary, I have never done as many projects and travelled than during the Covid period. You just have to know how to adapt to the technical or political problem. I'm also used to it because with my school I have to carry out projects at a distance, which gives me more time to organise them and think them through properly. The covid period has given me more time and strangely more opportunity.

What do you love about collaboration?

The constant diversity in my photoshoots, the variety and different inspiration from the students which allowed a multitude of ideas and compositions. The school environment was also very inspiring and full of places to capture! I also particularly liked the trust they gave me. During this month I was really independent. The kindness of the Catalyst team and their advice and caring was really important to me. I think especially of Christina who was adorable and with whom I shared a matcha before my departure!  

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We were totally impressed by your 2020 short film L'Apogée, a biopic about the young Adolf Hitler. It was your first experience as a director and a producer, and you also performed in it. How did you navigate such a controversial figure and what was your creative process in all of these roles?

In my approach and my artistic career, I am interested in the problems of collective memory. My projects retrace the memory of places, of people in their frozen temporal state. This setting of time is expressed by a duality mixing nostalgia, social and conceptual documentary, investigation, fiction and history. I am particularly interested in scabrous historical figures, as well as forgotten and controversial men and women of our society, working on different periods to question time and space.

I had been studying the Second World War for some years now and particularly Hitler as a man and not just as a politician. I found so many fascinating stories that were never mentioned once in the history books and that explained a lot of the public history that we know. I'm thinking in particular of the relationship he had with Emil Maurice and or Geli Raubal, his niece whom I play in this film. She is undoubtedly a person with whom I identify myself a lot, as strange as it may seem... I would add that this theme is also important on a personal level. Since I was young, I have been concerned by the tormented past of this war. Although I did not experience it personally, I experienced it through my family, through third parties, through testimonies, through collective history and my own, forging who I am today.

“At that time I had learnt filmmaking through my first training course and I thought why not try it. It was cheeky, but it could work. We learn by doing and not only through theory, right?”

The initial project was not about Hitler and was a photographic project that I did with John Ludwig, a German actor from Berlin. After the first version which was about a simple German soldier. I wanted to make a short film, however, without any bad puns, John had something special that made him appear as Hitler in the picture. At that time I had learnt filmmaking through my first training course and I thought why not try it. It was cheeky, but it could work. We learn by doing and not only through theory, right?

This project is my first film as an independent writer and director. I organised and financed this film from start to finish in only three months to be able to shoot in April 2019.  L'Apogée is a short film about the psychoses of Chancellor Adolf Hitler. This film project was co-produced with Andreas Reuther, a Berlin-based cinematographer and John Ludwig,  who plays the lead role. The filming, carried out on a small budget of 3,000 Swiss francs and involving a reunion between history lovers. I would say that my training helped me to organise all this. I had as much the foundations of a producer than of a filmmaker, which made me very independent at its creation. I think that this common passion for history is what made this project happen. Without this passion the result would probably not be the same! 

Who or what are your greatest inspirations?

I find a lot of inspiration in music and not so much in my peers. I think in particular of Woodkid for the Apogee project, otherwise I listen mainly to film soundtracks and classical music when I create. They are what forge my work. By listening to music, I invent a mental world for myself and all the rest is simply built without any effort: the scenario, the images, the characters... Each piece of music has a scene and all the music creates the film or the photographic project. 

As an inspiration, I would say that I identify myself with Virginie Rebetez, who is also a Swiss photographer, or Elina Brotherus whom I admire a lot for her audacity. In the classical field, Bertolt Brecht or Sophie Calle.

Now that you’re back in Switzerland, what’s next on your journey?

I plan to graduate as a photographer at the CEPV and then go on to study for a bachelor's degree in visual arts at the HEAD in Geneva, where I will develop my documentary and experimental projects on the memory of war and also make a new short historical film on the same subject. This is the idea for the next three years.