Nico Malvaldi’s story is a long one, but I won’t go into it all now, as it would take up a whole article in itself. Suffice it to say that when he was in his early twenties, after military service, he left Italy, went to explore the United States, and stayed on – San Francisco, Los Angeles and finally NY, where he’s lived for over fifteen years.
He started off doing odd jobs here and there. He became really keen on photography and, a bit by chance and a bit by luck, he started getting professional assignments. These included the one he’s most passionate about: Ballets with a Twist, a New York City dance company, with which he’s forged a strong professional bond that has continued for over a decade. He not only photographs shows and events, but also curates the company’s overall image.
Nico is brilliant, he’s got the eye of one who can dig out beauty in the least likely and most neglected corners of the city, where poetry lingers in silence and smolders in the hearts of people who can’t live without it. And when he finds it, he doesn’t let go, he clings to its essence and pursues it, seeking never to betray it.
Malvaldi has come to know himself better by looking in certain apparently forsaken and timeless places, where people have no need to follow fashion or trends because they already have their own, embodied in their lifestyle. In those unknown bars, he finds a dimension that he immediately recognizes as his own, that he feels belongs to him. He listens to music played live by “surreal”, ageless people, music in which he rediscovers his values and ideals.
These “Dive Bars”, as they are called, have become his second home, a place of intimacy where one’s most authentic self can be explored; where, in the most virtuous of solitudes, he discovers something new each time, something that surprises and at the same time gratifies him. Here his personality is reflected, in a place of the past unlikely to be found in the present, where anyone can be molded, even someone with the most indomitable character. Unwittingly, you can find yourself caught in the bourgeoisie trap, with a lifestyle full of security and comfort, but one that distorts your true nature a bit more every day, until you look in the mirror and no longer recognize what you’ve become.
With his inseparable friend – his camera – he becomes witness to these places where people live their music – strictly performed live –strongly tied to those venues where everything has been kept as it always was: from microphones with wires to worn-out banquettes; from broken chairs to scuffed bar counters, faded 80’s posters in which the atmosphere and style seem to be suspended in a passing of eras. Frozen in an unmistakable zeitgeist, these bars are determined to preserve – as well as promote – their character, ensuring they will stay the same in the future. Showing to the generations yet to come the values they believed in; values that are still relevant today, after over forty years.
It’s here that Malvaldi’s photography takes form and shape, in perfect harmony with the style of these bars: his photos are deliberately taken with an analogue camera, using the traditional flash, in order to perfectly capture the atmosphere of such places, where there’s no room for posed photos (let alone selfies), fancy drinks, or designer clothes, where everything has its own socio-cultural value, without disguise or filters that confuse the image of what one is, with what one would like to be: because here, a person’s appearance coincides with their essence and they are shouted out loud not because it’s cool but because it’s necessary – feeling completely true to oneself, just like the music they play: punk. Without any trickery or fiction, fake greetings or smiles.
And so, shot by shot, the project – Nico Malvaldi – MANI –was born. In the attempt to reproduce the beauty of these places he prints his photos on paper used for newsprint, typical of the 80s in its colors – black and white – and its large dimensions. The collaboration with the venues that Malvaldi visits and photographs at night was inevitable— Berlin, Our Wicked Lady, Gran Torino, Baby’s All Right, Niagara, Coney Island Baby and The Broadway, along with Ilegal Mezcal, have become his sponsors and support him in this artistic, socio-cultural initiative. Moreover, last March, he teamed up with 72 Gallery, a space which specializes in showcasing New York’s punk and rock legends, in a show that took a step away from “the past”, moving towards the contemporary, in a long-awaited exhibition that was unfortunately interrupted by the pandemic.
Leafing through the black-and-white photos, we have a series not only of “local culture”, but also of values, strength and dignity, where the assertion of oneself stems from the ability to resemble only oneself, to feel unique and faithful, free of myths to emulate. The photos provide moments of unusual sensuality – subtle and less ordinary – not sought in things normally associated with it, but in the rhythm of the chiaroscuro effects that are refracted on scantily dressed bodies, free gestures, symbols and sweat, all caught up in the rhythm of the music. There is also an inescapable sense of irreverence, always portrayed with humanity and sincerity, in which the light transforms the skin into velvet and fingers clutching bodies into poetry. Where details that stand out in the melee show the energy that is released and experienced. Nothing is prepared or fixed in advance: no photographic product to sell, no store window with goods on display to be lit up, no beauty constructed around an ideal that will turn out to be unattained. But, rather, the consecration of uniqueness, seen as the freedom of Being, a freedom that could not be more beautiful. To quote the slogan of our online newspaper, “Liberty meets Beauty”, a concept that couldn’t be more appropriate to describe Malvaldi’s work.