The term “identity” has many different meanings, depending on the context in which you use it.
Igor Ponti has named this important photographic project Looking for Identity: a search for identity that, while using a technical-digital medium (a camera, of course), refers to the broader psychoanalytic sense of the term: “Self-awareness as an entity distinct from the others and which continues over time” (Encyclopedia Treccani).
Igor Ponti confesses that he is searching in time, in places, and in himself, for the identity of man, the identity of the photographer, the identity of a Swiss citizen.
He chooses the less traumatic approach by measuring himself against his own country, with that received identity which he often dreams of escaping from. But the authentic desire to understand and know pushes him to compare, to use photography as a tool to challenge himself and to verify the pertinence of his roots.
And, with a determination that it is not just a technical choice, he decides that working with a large format camera (20×25 cm) on a tripod is the method that will allow him to transform his gaze into vision. A slow vision, which requires planning, and that often requires the use of language that Walker Evans called “documentary”, a language that desires “objectivity” (to the extent that the subjectivity of the photograph allows), a language that does not judge, does not comment, does not indulge in aesthetic acrobatics; it simply respects and records.
His images thus recount Switzerland, but it is easier to list what doesn’t appear rather than what he photographs: there are no cows or skiers, no chocolate, cheese, watches, and there is only one William Tell. His journey is accomplished through vision, through an activity that is familiar to photography: the conceptual and practical transition from looking to seeing.
By “looking”, Igor Ponti intends natural gestures, habitual, which do not necessarily involve the act of “seeing”, which is the next step involving awareness and is the basis of photographic vision. Introspection and the search for identity through photography are almost constant methodologies for Igor Ponti.
Even as he completed his studies in photography in 2005, he asked himself how he would to put into practice what he had learned, and earnestly searched stories he could measure himself against. Thus, in 2009, Skate Generation was born. Lugano Skaters Portraits: a book of 49 portraits and 49 stories of the Lugano skater community. The world he knew and had been part of since adolescence turned into his first real project: with Skate Generation, Igor Ponti discovered the possibility of translating the inquest surrounding his own identity into the pleasure of realizing a creative project.
The next step came to him via his reflections on a teenage world in a contemporary setting still torn by doubts. Igor confesses that he thought a long time in order to understand the ambiguous dichotomy for which, on the one hand, he dreamed of emigrating, of leaving Switzerland, and on the other, his awareness of not knowing it well enough.
Once again it was photography that helped him face these questions. In 2010 he created what he calls “a sort of prologue”, touring the country and taking pictures with a small camera, looking for what he thought would be “Swiss identity”.
He soon realizes, however, that this research must not be directed outwards, to the obvious signs and predictable stereotypes, even if they were photographed and contemplated by a visual culture from American references, but must instead turn his attention toward himself, towards the direction that his life takes in the act of photographing. Hence the decision to consolidate his need for understanding by using a large format camera, with a slow pace that imposes a necessary ritual and a precise plan.
Thus begin the regular trips, to fixed destinations – even if often thwarted – looking for historical sites, important presences; but soon the constant application of a contemplated vision shifts his focus onto more intimate and personal subjects, those who do not necessarily relate to cultural pertinence.
The journey in search of identity is therefore accomplished through landscapes, seasons, places that preserve historical memories and anonymous places, faces and signs.
The sequence of images is witness to the wonder and empathy that come with the expected and the unexpected: there are views and portraits, a poetic sculpture of bells and a wooden sculpture of William Tell; there are dwarves and some white crosses on red backgrounds, viaducts and bridges, mountains, caravans, houses of wood and of concrete, and the fleeting “friendships” of his encounters. But above all there is a clear vision, capable of witnessing the encounters, of “seeing” the obvious and the anonymous and transforming them into creative works.
It is the story of an “average” Switzerland, without any major cities, without events, without stereotypes, in which each image rereads a moment of private reflection, almost an oblique self-portrait of the narrator.
“Identity” outlined by the sequence of images, the daughter of a culture of contemporary vision, it is precise, clear and intense, and is still, among the many possible identities, “distinct from the others and continuing over time”, which is exactly what Igor Ponti was hoping to find.