You can sometimes tell when the subject of a photograph has a special relationship with the photographer. This kind of a connection is clear in Pietro Mattioli’s 1977 portraits of his friends, partygoers at Club Hey, a gay disco in Zurich. The connection between photographer and subject, as inscribed in the subjects’ every tiny gesture, brings the photographs to life while Mattioli’s attention to the details of their style – the leather jackets, haircuts, skinny ties, T-shirts, and badges – sets them in their historical moment. Collectively the photographs reveal the photographer’s affection for his subjects and the subjects’ ease suggests that the feeling was mutual. The direct flash, straight on mug-shot aesthetic of Mattioli’s portraits – a look to which we’ve become accustomed through the advertising styles of the past 25 years – was an anti-aesthetic when Mattioli used it in 1977, a rejection of prevailing notions of photographic “beauty” in favour of honesty.
The 1977 portraits are interrupted twice by groups of colour photographs of unpeopled scenes of the exteriors of Swiss housing estates, made between 1985 and 1997. A window is open, half of a car is revealed, water has stained one of the walls. Mattioli approaches these subjects with again an interest in detail, the recognition of a transient moment in time, and a will to allow the subject to speak for itself. As a result, Mattioli both critiques the blandness of the concrete environments and poignantly recognises that lives are lived in these places, if evidenced only by a red curtain in an otherwise grey building. The two works combined offer a powerful meditation on time’s flexible character: clubbers fully occupying the moment set against grim estates unable to move through time any more quickly.