The American School in SwitzerlandThe American School in Switzerland
A Decade of Creativity

The Class of 2008 celebrated its 10-year reunion on campus last summer.

The Class of 2008 celebrated its 10-year reunion on campus last summer.

Of course every TASIS class has its share of creative types, many of whom go on to carve out interesting and important careers in the arts. But the Class of 2008 has made a particular mark creatively, with many of its members having spent the past decade finding their feet in careers spanning from fashion design to sculpture. They’re leaving their mark on Los Angeles, London, New York, Rome, Beirut, and dozens of other urban arts scenes around the world. What’s even better is that many of them are still in touch and continue to inspire and support one another despite the distance between them.

Of note is the number of working photographers who are 2008 graduates. The ones profiled below all mention the incomparable influence of master teacher Horst Dürrschmidt, who taught decades of fledgling TASIS student photographers how to hone their craft. Mr. Dürrschmidt remembers his H-period photography class from 2007–2008 fondly.

“In all my years of teaching I never had a class quite like that—the dynamic was incredible,” he said. “They worked together, pushed each other, and were so creative. It was interesting to get to know them as individuals and as artists, learning how they worked and teaching them how to focus their ideas and their energy on how to make their best work. I am not surprised that so many of them are working as photographers now.”

The success of the Class of 2008 is undoubtedly due to personal drive, focus, and ambition, yet the influence of the teachers, environment, and spaces that TASIS provided has helped to shape these young artists as well.

Read on to learn about some of the class’s brightest stars in the arts.

Emily Bode

Emily Bode Fashion

Fashionistas will be familiar with Emily Adams Bode’s eponymous label Bode, which debuted in July 2016 at New York’s Men’s Fashion Week. Emily’s unique designs are made using vintage and rare fabrics, and many of her pieces are one-off creations hand-tailored at her workshop in New York City. Sourced from the northeastern US, UK, Europe, India, and beyond, her fabrics seem to spark a story told through clothing design.

Emily BodeEmily’s love of vintage fabrics is rooted in a childhood spent antiquing and going to flea markets with her mother and aunts near her home of Atlanta and summer home in Cape Cod. Since she was a child, she has been collecting fabrics that evoke nostalgia, whether a piece of 1970s upholstery, a vintage feed sack, or a quilt from 1910. She remains in contact with antique dealers throughout the US who reach out when they find pieces that might work for her collections.

After leaving TASIS, Emily studied menswear design at Parsons School of Design and philosophy at Eugene Lang College. She worked at Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs before striking out on her own, with a vision of creating pieces for discerning collectors who appreciate exclusivity. She also includes a few full-size runs with each collection.

Emily’s time at TASIS has undoubtedly influenced her life. She frequently tells interviewers about the creative courses she took and has cited old photographs of Herman Hesse, showcasing his style and way of life in Ticino, as a major inspiration.

Her designs challenge the cut and look of traditional menswear, featuring florals, stripes, and distinctive patterns and engaging color schemes. Emily often says that history is embedded in each garment, reflecting past experiences and memories that the look and feel of each piece evokes. This, combined with the exclusivity of having a handmade garment and the whimsical nature of her pieces, has given her garments a timeless quality that has been embraced by men around the world.

Gianna Dispenza

Gianna DispenzaPlace has driven Gianna Dispenza’s decade of work since graduating from TASIS. The painter and sculptor studied at four universities, eventually graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute, and spent a few years in Beirut before moving to Portland, Maine, for a year, where she worked on a series of paintings, and to London this past August.

Gianna’s time in Beirut included developing educational programs for Syrian and Palestinian refugees alongside producing and exhibiting her work in Lebanon. “Beirut has a pretty lively art scene,” she says of her time there, where she was featured in five group exhibitions and curated one solo exhibition.

Gianna continues to recall her TASIS days when creating her work. “It’s fair to say that my time in Ca Gioia, where Mr. Koppe taught me to paint, pointed me to the career I have now as a painter and sculptor,” she says. “Friends from TASIS are still some of my closest...In so many ways they remedy the stress of parting with communities I’ve had elsewhere. They’re family.”


Jon Harris

Jon Harris

Travel has been the instigator for much of Jon Harris’s life. The London-based filmmaker and photographer focuses mainly on commercial projects and spends his free time shooting personal projects around the world, most recently traveling for two months in the Himalayas and backpacking around California and Utah.

Jon studied International Relations and Italian at the University of Leeds and spent his third year living in Bologna. He took advantage of the long summers to experience the world, taking a road trip up the Pacific coast, camping in the Norwegian arctic circle, driving to Morocco, and visiting the remote valleys of north India. “All those trips were perfect opportunities to push my photography skills and build a portfolio,” he says. He shot everything on 35mm film cameras from the 1950s and 60s and a 1950s 16mm Bolex. “It was such a commitment to the medium, being in such remote beautiful landscapes and not even knowing if your photo would come out. Those experiences led me to working with Lonely Planet and some of my favorite independent magazines in London.”

After graduating from Leeds he spent a summer studying cinematography at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He moved back to London and landed a job at Academy Films, working his way up from coffee guy to working shoulder-to-shoulder with Oscar-winning directors. This has led to a successful freelance career working with brands such as Beats by Dre and some of the world’s best athletes. “The film industry is such a collaborative environment—so it’s been a fantastic education to continue working alongside such talented people for the past five years.”

Jon’s ease of working in myriad environments has its roots at TASIS. When he arrived, he remembers “feeling pretty isolated and alone—nobody supported my football team or listened to my favorite bands. I arrived from a traditional British schooling system and everything came as a big culture shock.” But then it clicked. “I realized that in order to break down those boundaries I needed to open myself up to other people. I shared a Hadsall dorm room with a Serbian, an Azeri, and an Italian—and just hearing their stories alone blew my mind. I truly came away from TASIS with an international outlook, and suddenly my world wasn’t so small. That totally shaped the way I see the world today.”

Jon owes a huge amount to Horst Dürrschmidt and his darkroom photography class. “Not only are my classmates now my best friends, but the principles of his teaching completely shaped my style of photography. There truly isn’t a better way to learn photography than in a darkroom. Every shot becomes the decisive moment when you shoot on film—as the stakes are so high. That resonated with me and the trips I was taking all over the world after I graduated. Traveling with old cameras meant that images might have light leaks, be slightly out of focus or overexposed—but I’ve never found a medium that has come even close to feeling more like a memory. To this day I still shoot on film and make a really conscious effort to evoke a sense of feeling in my images.”

Simon David

Simon David

After studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York, University College Falmouth, and the Node Center in Berlin, Simon David began working with galleries and auction houses including Flowers Gallery, Christie’s, and The Photographers’ Gallery before founding Galleria Ramo in 2016. “I’m currently spending my time scouting and researching young emerging artists for our current online project InRoads, which is incredibly gratifying as I am able to see various artists studios, exhibitions, meet curators and travel,” he said.

Galleria Ramo debuted in Lugano and is focused on temporary “pop-up” spaces away from urban centers, usually in forgotten spaces filled with history and past lives. The gallery does not directly represent any of the artists, but rather works on curated exhibitions. “We provide a platform for artists to express creative freedom and develop new forms of dialogue between local and international artists,” said Simon. He and his team are currently looking to expand to a permanent space in Rome where the gallery will continue supporting the careers of emerging artists.

During his time in London, Simon shared a flat with classmates Jon Harris, Luca Marziale, and Roberto Falangola, which Simon called “an amazing experience. We still bounce ideas and keep in touch with one another, sometimes even creating projects together.” Indeed, Marziale and Fiona Struengmann ’05 have both exhibited with Galleria Ramo.

“TASIS definitely shaped me as a person, more than just educationally but through shared values and goals, especially those in our year,” said Simon. “Horst Dürrschmidt really inspired me and is without a doubt the reason I progressed to follow a career in the art world today. I have dedicated myself to the contemporary art world, which is sometimes challenging but extremely fulfilling.”

Luca Marziale

Luca Marziale

Stirring and vast, Luca Marziale’s landscapes capture our world with a poignant, almost wistful touch. The patterns and colors seem otherworldly, playing with the viewer’s imagination.

Luca’s signature style began after a trip to Iceland where he created his first series, Testament. He was quickly discovered by TBD Independent Project, a Miami-based gallery, and went on to take part in art fairs in NYC, London, Basel, and Miami, where his work began to sell. “It helped confirm that photography could be a way of life,” Luca recalls.

After the success of Testament, he began researching other locations with extreme landscapes. His second series took him to Yellowstone National Park in the US during winter. “I loved the contrast between the subzero temperatures and the fiery geothermal world underneath,” he said. Two series emerged from his time there, Unearth and Studies, both of which exhibited in London, New York, Miami, Basel, Lugano, and Amsterdam. His newest series explores Ethiopia and will feature in a joint exhibition with the NASA space program in Madrid.

Luca lives in London and is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His first job was working for Vanity Fair photographer Todd Eberle, where Luca learned more about the magazine industry. “It was an eye-opener,” he said. “Getting the chance to assist photographing celebrities and political leaders was a big responsibility and incredibly rewarding and it forced me to grow up faster than I had anticipated.”

Trying to stay creative, ambitious, and positive can be challenging for Luca. “I think being an artist is a strange job,” he said. “There are no rules; there is no one telling you what to do; you are constantly on the edge of either creating art or trying to sell it. This lifestyle can be quite lonely. Keeping yourself engaged and creative can be hard. I remind myself that when you do something you love for a living, you must make sure you nurture that creativity.”

Luca was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age and was failing his education in the UK when he came to TASIS. “Maybe it was the environment, the mentality, or even the energy, but it gave me a second chance,” he remembers. “Two particular teachers in my time at TASIS never gave up on me and constantly pushed me to try harder and do better. Mr. Laurence Koppe and Mr. Horst Dürrschmidt are the two mentors in my life that have helped shape the way I view the world and myself. It was great getting to study under two very different people and personalities. I tried to inherit the characteristics that I admired in both of them.”

Luca also reaches out to his TASIS classmates. “When you have friends in the same field it gives you that extra vote of confidence that you are not alone and that it can be done,” he said. “Almost 13 years ago we were all kids sitting in photography class learning how to use the camera as a tool and now the roles have reversed and I am very grateful to get that opportunity. Each of us is in a different field in the art world, but we all have to juggle between being an artist and a businessman, so being able to learn from each other's experiences has been super beneficial and helpful. We all inspire each other to get out of our comfort zones and go explore a new side of the world or try a new experience. I am extremely grateful to have those friends in my life because they have unknowingly shaped who I am and the way I think.”

Stephan Jeanpierre

Stephan JeanpierreEdgy and provocative, Stephan Jeanpierre’s work spans photography, videography, animations, and visual effects. Stephan has worked for a number of international clients, including Nike, and he currently lives in San Francisco. “The biggest challenge I have faced was establishing myself as a self-sufficient artist, which was much easier said than done,” he said. “In a city like San Francisco and starting with a few disadvantages, it has been an uphill grind to get to the present day. My career has had a ton of ups and downs, successes and failures, frustrations and revelations throughout the years, and I find that I am a much better person as a result of the many trials and tribulations I have faced.”

Stephan attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where he studied visual effects and motion graphics and began freelancing as a student. “I found that I knew just enough to be dangerous,” he said, eventually dropping out after three years of study. “Having no financial support but all the determination in the world, I spent the next five years struggling to feed myself and keep a roof over my head as I worked as a freelance filmmaker and photographer,” he recalls. “These were the toughest years of my professional career. The uncertainty of whether I would be able to make a career out of film and video really tested my mettle.”

It was this tenacity that kept him at the top of his game. He invested more time and money in his craft and by 2016 he broke even. “In my mind, failure was not an option,” he said. His mother convinced him to return to school, and he graduated with a degree in animation, all the while sustaining himself as a freelancer. “The degree didn't help me a ton,” he admits, “but it did give me even more focus in what I wanted to do.”

Last year he also began working for Appdynamics, one of the fastest growing software companies in the world. This role has him traveling the world and handling internal messaging for the company while also allowing him room to continue his freelance work.

Stephan is still in touch with his classmates and enjoys seeing their successes. “TASIS has certainly shaped me into the person I am today,” he said. “The exposure I received in terms of culture, discipline, and overall independence allowed me to persevere through the tough times.”

“I also learned how to interact with different people from all over the world,” he added. “Being a well-spoken, well-traveled black American is very uncommon. To be among them has been quite the privilege, as it has afforded me opportunities not often presented to people like me. I think the relaxed nature of a boarding school environment helped me come into my own.”

Robin Gilli

Storytelling has always been at the core of Robin Gilli’s work. His favorite images are those he’s taken of people in remote places around the world, communities “that now, in our time, we don’t realize still exist.” Robin delights in finding the most remote and unbelievable communities and sharing the stories that line the people’s faces.

Robin graduated from Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles and moved straight back to his home village of Emmetten, Switzerland, four days after graduation. “College made me realize I don’t want to live in LA!” he said. He graduated with a Photography and Imaging degree, which focused not just on creating images but also techniques and manipulation. “It was a good experience, but a lot of work,” he remembers. “Much of the degree was purely technical. But I learned how to take a good photo under any circumstance.” In other words, Robin doesn’t have to wait until the muse strikes.

After graduation, Robin didn’t pick up a camera for more than half a year. He took his ski instructor examination and lived in the mountains, reconnecting with his country and taking time away from the lens. “Then it came back and wasn’t a chore anymore,” he said, and he started taking trips again, to places like Morocco and Norway. He went on an overland trip from Dakkar to Switzerland through the Sahara and took startling images of nomads. “This showed me that what I want to do is take photos of people who are not normally photographed,” he said. “I still think about the people I connected with on these trips.”

It was during these trips that Robin realized the need to find the right people to take him to find the communities he seeks. “During past trips I got a few good photos by chance rather than design,” he said. “I hope to get better quality shots, and more of them, by finding the right people who can take me into very sketchy places sometimes, but these are the communities that are interesting to me.”

Last year, Robin took a trip to Cape Town to do photography for an NGO, an unpaid role he funded himself. He immediately connected with the people he met and found it a remarkable experience, one he hopes to replicate in Morocco later this year.

Robin freelances for a number of clients on photography projects and supplements this by teaching a pre-K class and continuing his work as a ski instructor in winter, swapping to mountain bike guide in summer. “I’m to the point where I work until I have enough to take a few weeks and work with an NGO,” he said. Using his skills to teach the world about a marginalized community is fulfilling work for him.

He has TASIS to thank for everything—“totally, all of it,” he said. He was always interested in digital imagery but thought he might be more keen on film until he began photography classes at TASIS. “Thanks to Horst Dürrschmidt, I started really getting into it. TASIS was such a creative environment.” Does he ever wonder about film? “No, I like that photography allows you to create something tangible,” he said.

Milo Zanecchia

Milo Zanecchia

If you’ve seen a recent Visit Ticino advertisement with sweeping views of the mountains and lakes defining the region, chances are you’ve seen Milo Zanecchia’s work. He is an in-demand photographer and videographer who works with a variety of international clients on marketing content, alongside his work with a subsidiary of Getty Images producing outdoor content.

Milo studied geopolitics at the University of Edinburgh and, halfway through his degree, he realized he wanted to pursue a career through a lens. He started freelancing in Scotland while finishing his degree and his Master’s, and he then spent his time between California, Scotland, and Lugano. He also helped launch the Opsahl Global Service Program at TASIS and documented several service trips around the world. (These videos and many others created by Milo can be found on the TASIS YouTube channel).

In the summer of 2015, Milo took an incredible summer-long Trans-Asia overland expedition from Lugano to Mongolia that was supported by The North Face. Three years ago, Milo’s freelance work became sustainable, and he now focuses entirely on his photo and video work.

“The biggest challenge has by far been finding balance between investing in my own business and disconnecting from work,” he said. “I'm grateful to have turned my hobby and passion into my career, but it also consumes most of my energy trying to navigate making clients happy and hiring other artists and trusting them to deliver.”

He continues to lean on his TASIS friends for support. “We regularly critique each other’s work the same way we did in H-period photo class,” he said. “It’s what helps make us better at what we do because we can trust each other to give honest advice.”

His time at TASIS helped boost Milo’s confidence. “TASIS showed me how small the world is and how similar we all are regardless of where we live. It prepared me to be able to travel anywhere and talk to anyone without fear or reservation.”

A print version of this article was originally published in the 2018 issue of TASIS Today.

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