Anna Stüdeli’s new book looks at the subtle messaging of advertising and gives it a different (and erotic) meaning

Advertisements are everywhere, from the food we eat, the drinks we sip to the media we consume on our phones. It’s an industry that dates back years, appearing first through printed newspapers and magazines in the mid-19th century. A crescendo arose in the 20th century with the arrival of advanced technology, unleashing its manipulative and consumerist ways onto more immediate outlets such as radio, the internet and the television. And now, the world has become so distilled in advertising that consumers – the western population – see it everywhere. It’s normal life. In fact, most might think they’re immune to its powers and are aware of how much of it is marinaded in cliche. But what happens if these images are taken out of context and given a completely new meaning?

Anna Stüdeli is doing just that in her new book Primal, published by Edition Patrick Frey and featuring around 120 close-ups of advertising posters in Zürich. The selected imagery is pulled from the photographer’s mammoth archive of over 1,2000 photographs, each of which has been cropped and zoomed in order to give a refreshed narrative to the work. She first started work on the archive in 2014, with the idea for the book following suit in 2017: “It all began with an advertising poster that caught my eye,” she tells me. “It was this advertisement for a milk substitute or something similar with a big baby face on it, that had his little mouth opened. I was totally fascinated by its pornographic appearance once I focused on the detail of the image and freed it from its content.” Paving the way for further exploration, this initial image sparked an interest and thus inspired Anna to continue photographing for the following four years, with an educational gap in-between while she studied media and film science at University of Zürich, and a photography course at Zürich School of Fine Arts.

“With Primal,” she continues, “I wanted to show a different and broader view on lust to the very homogenise image the advertisement industry confronts us with. I wanted to show eroticism in its whole, as something between lust and repulsion, something that originates in the combination of the two. Something that goes way deeper than the superficiality of today’s advertisement and which is deeply rooted in us – its primal. My book shows my interest in looking beneath the surface of things, into the depth, the hidden, the forbidden. If you take a closer look behind the shiny surface, it is all there: hair, wrinkles, holes and dirty fingernails.”

While finding inspiration for the project, Anna would take to the streets to consume everything she could in her surroundings – the moments from daily life and the advertisements that simultaneously bombard it. Or even ruin it, despite the modern day oblivion. Anna also shoots everything in analogue so that the minute details can rise to the surface with prominence: the dirt or raindrops sprinkled onto the posters, as well as the layers between the glue and sheets of paper. After time, though, the analogue prints were replaced with digital, but this doesn’t deviate from the bizarre intricacies placed onto the work. “Now, in 2021, only very few of those still exist in Zürich,” adds Anna. “So in that sense, my project is almost a historic documentation of a fast growing digitalisation of our world.”

Describing her favourite imagery from the book, Anna reverts back to the debut image once again: the one of the child’s mouth. “As explained before, it’s the first one I took. It shows how even a child’s mouth can be erotic, once you remove it from its content. If you know that it is a child’s mouth and you feel attracted to it, you feel caught in the act; you might feel disgusted with yourself. These are the emotions I am interested to evoke in the viewer.” Another image of a boy’s head looking upwards provokes a similar response as it depicts a movement of a head, “which looks like he was moaning with lust”. The up-close view magnifies the imperfections of the image – the crease, the marks on his face – and thrashes the stereotypical illusion of perfection often seen in advertising. 

Anna continues to choose another prominent photo, this time of an ice skater – picked for similar reasons mentioned prior. “I was shocked by the very obvious erotic posture of this ice skater and surprised that its makers maybe didn’t realise it. The ice skater is shown performing what might be a common pose but she is depicted as if her ice skates were about to ram into her vagina.”

Anna’s work with Primal illuminates our ever-increasing dependency on the digital world, and also our numbness to its effects. Advertisements are all around us, and Anna wants you to be more conscious and to concurrently repurpose its messaging for the better – “In the subtlest [of advertising] there lies a danger, because it has the potential to shape what we perceive as normal in this world,” she notes. “I feel tough, that in the last few years, there has been an effort to make advertisements more diverse, when it comes to race for example, which is obviously positive. But that doesn’t change its general impact on us.”

Postcards from Pyongyang

Nicholas Bonner reflects on his first visit to Pyongyang and his collection of vibrant North Korean visual ephemera

Pyongyang was, and remains, a more beautiful capital than Beijing. It is a planned city that sprung up following the devastation of the Korean War (1950–53) – locals say that only three buildings were left standing. The Taedong River and its tributary the Potong River run through the city and, together with various parks, give Pyongyang an admirably high proportion of green space. Early Soviet-style utilitarian apartment blocks and more modern prestige streets were interspersed with peculiar and original public buildings: theatres, gymnasia, cinemas and libraries, all with quirky but wonderful interiors. I had more questions than answers, and it only dawned on me on return to Beijing just how unusual it had all been.

The Monument to Party Foundation that was built on the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the Worker’s Party of Korea (1945–1995). The residential buildings behind are both topped with the slogan ‘One Hundred Battles, One Hundred Victories’. © Nicholas Bonner

This curiosity-driven jaunt was the first of hundreds of visits, a decades-long enduring fascination with North Korea and its people; its art, products, oddities, mysteries and banalities. These combine to create a whole that remains murky beyond the parts that ‘they’ want you to see, but, with enough persistence and stubbornness, reveals itself incrementally. I have seen the contradictions and controversies, the surprise of normality, the well-off and the desperate, and the emergence of familiar elements from out of the seemingly alien. I still regularly get blindsided by unexpected occurrences; from surprising revelations from old friends, and the excitement of visiting a newly available part of the country, to the swing between sub-zero winters and sweltering summers. It isn’t a place to tire of easily.

Postcards from a 1973 set that depict scenes from the revolutionary opera Song of Mount Gumgang-san. © Nicholas Bonner

As a countryside ranger taking school groups on walks through the green fields and moors of England, I saw that kids stuffed their pockets with stones or flowers, and a similar magpie-style of collection started with me as soon as I began visiting North Korea. I was charmed and simply taken by the graphic design elements of the products there. Many were not technically or legally ‘available’ to me, a foreigner. So I would buy Korean sweets and keep the wrappers and the hoarding eventually became several large boxes stuffed with what others might, justifiably, call junk. When I was approached to publish a collection of North Korean graphics, this rubbish (which I did at least keep in labelled envelopes) suddenly transubstantiated into a carefully curated collection of expertly selected design ephemera.

Cards from a presentation pack of postcards of famous sites in Pyongyang. Pictured here, the May Day stadium, previously home of the Arirang Mass Games but renovated in 2015 and now a football stadium. © Nicholas Bonner

Nicholas Bonner is a documentary filmmaker, screenwriter, and co-founder of Beijing-based travel agency Koryo Tours, who organise trips to the DPRK.

This is an extract from the introduction of Made in North Korea: Graphics From Everyday Life in the DPRK, available now, published by Phaidon.

Job Opening: Advertising Manager

PORT, the biannual style magazine with a focus on beautiful and intelligent content for the modern reader, is looking for an experienced advertising manager to join our award-winning team


We are looking for a proactive and passionate advertising manager with strong media agency contacts to secure advertising revenue and other commercial projects for PORT Magazine and The advertising manager is a senior position reporting directly to the Associate Publisher of PORT Magazine.

The job requires a thorough understanding of the print and digital media landscape and will involve maintaining and building lasting and meaningful relationships with clients across luxury, design, travel and lifestyle brands. Alongside developing sales for both PORT Magazine and, the advertising manager will be responsible for seeking out and securing other creative opportunities for the business.

Essential skills
– At least three years experience of working in a sales role for a fashion or lifestyle magazine
– Excellent agency contact base
– Ability to sell across multiple sectors including luxury, design, travel and lifestyle
– Experience in selling and delivering cross-platform creative partnerships
– Proven track history in meeting and exceeding sales targets
– Great verbal and written communication skills
– Ability to work independently as well as part of a team
– Experience of working on advertorials and bespoke projects for clients

Key Duties
– Manage the advertising and commercial activities across PORT Magazine and to ensure commercial targets are met
– Respond to client briefs, write proposals, prepare budgets and attend presentations as required
– Manage and implement creative projects together with the PORT editorial and production team
– Keep track of competitors in order to analyse the market
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– Develop persuasive and engaging sales collateral
– Write sales reports and extract data in order to create sales forecasts

Salary Dependent on experience

Please email a cover letter, CV and portfolio to PORT’s Associate Publisher, Andrew Chidgey-Nakazono via

Application deadline: 20 May