A paper opera

Over the past few years, the promotional materials that paper companies have mailed out to win the attention of designers have been largely uninspiring and rarely dramatic. But Fedrigoni UK has bucked this trend, commissioning YCN to produce a theatrical, photography-led portfolio. Design Week caught up with YCN’s Alex Ostrowski to chat about the project.

Design Week: What did the brief involve?
Alex Ostrowski: Fedrigoni briefed us to come up with a way to showcase a selection of their white papers in a piece of print that could function as a swatch book in the loosest sense, as well as providing something interesting and inspiring for the design audience of the piece.

Photography by Nick Ballon
Spreads from Eternal Source of Light Divine

Photography by Nick Ballon
Photography by Nick Ballon

DW: Talk me through the thinking behind the project.
Ostrowski: Fedrigoni paper is top quality stuff, and it’s all made at their mill in Verona. We decided to dramatise this special Italian quality in the form of a melodramatic narrative, told using only photography, a bit like an Opera. This would ultimately provide us with some super-sharp imagery to show off the paper’s ability to print beautifully.

Photography by Nick Ballon
Spreads from the portfolio

Photography by Nick Ballon
More spreads

DW: What is the narrative that takes place in this fictional print house?
Ostrowski: A normal day at a print house begins, in an atmosphere of clinical precision and efficiency. A strange sense of suspense builds as we see more of the print space, until we eventually become aware of an important delivery – a palette of Fedrigoni Paper. The paper is paraded into the central room of the print house, at which point the man who appears to be in charge delivers an emotive speech about the delivery’s significance. The entire staff then erupt into a frenzy of celebration and we see a series of intimate moments between printers and B1 sheets of Fedrigoni paper.

Photography by Nick Ballon
Spreads from the book

Photography by Nick Ballon
Photography by Nick Ballon

DW: What made you choose to bring in photographer Nick Ballon?
Ostrowski: The serene style of Nick’s photography provided exactly the right mood of precision and order that we needed to establish at the beginning of the book. We also wanted the shots to have a dramatic stillness later on, which he managed to achieve beautifully.

More spreads
More spreads

DW: How did you want the images to feel?
Ostrowski: The photographs all have a quite, dark, surreal drama to them, making the ultra normality of the print house seem strange. We involved Nelly Ben Hayoun as a stylist on the project, who added further touches of the bizarre – including sourcing the giant spherical balloons – until we were left with something remarkable and unique. Throughout, the paper takes on a divine almost holy quality, with people handling it very preciously. The title of the piece ’Eternal Source of Light Divine’ is the name of an opera by Handel, which we thought suited the light and dark aspect of the photography.

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Photography by Nick Ballon

DW: What about logistics? Where was it shot? Are the subjects people from the print industry or actors?
Ostrowski: We shot the whole thing at Pure Print over two very long days, with their very patient cooperation. The guys there were unbelievably helpful and many of them feature in the shots. We also brought two actors in to play the two most testing roles, and they were both great. Pure Print then printed the book, so they got to see their faces coming off press.

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