Nico went to Sydney : a short story about being stupid.

Do you all remember this image? 

I put it together to announce what probably have been the biggest news I had since arriving here in Australia : one of my photos (read: one of my favorite photos) got selected out of over 8000 submission as a finalist for the Portrait Prize of the Head On Photo Festival 2015, the biggest photo festival in Australia. 

When I received the email from Head On confirming me I was a finalist, I was happy beyond control. As I usually do, I started jumping around, being stupidly loud for no real reason and, most especially, I completely lost the ability to stand still for the next few hours. Yup, I’m just like a big baby. 

For the following weeks I tried AS HARD AS I COULD not to create any expectations but hey, remember? Big baby.

So of course I started daydreaming of winning the contest, both for the money (which would help a LOT) but mostly for the exposure and the connected opportunities. I guess it’s one of the only downsides of being a fierce optimist : I always imagine things will turn my way. 

Flash forward to April 30th, I’m in Melbourne’s airport with Ollie Savage, the amazing make up artist that worked on the finalist portrait with me: we’re now great friends and I love her to bits. 

With excitement blasting through the roof, we flew to Sydney for the opening night of the festival, where the announcers would be revealed. 

In Sydney, we separated for a few hours, I went to a meeting with a photo editor and walked around taking some pictures. New city, new air, the first time out of Melbourne since I arrived here in Australia. I immediately started shooting some street photos of this new environment, all boosted up by the excitement I could hardly contain.

I met with her again in a bar in King’s Cross for some drinks and dinner. We had an amazing time, for real. A strange old man entered the bar and started reading the paper. I approached him, asked him if I could snap a few portraits and after agreeing he asked me: “ Are you a terrorist? You have a weird beard going on there “ 

Andy was his name, 84 years old. We chatted for a few minutes, he told me his portraits had a price. A bottle of Zabaglione, an italian egg based liquor that is consumed around Christmas time. He told me he loves it but it’s now impossible to find here in Australia.

I promised I would send a bottle to the bar for him and wrote down the bar’s address. The bottle will soon be on its way to him. 

On the opening night the next day, both me and Ollie were shocked by the outstanding amount of people queuing up, waiting for the doors of the festival to open at 6pm.

When the doors opened, the crowd flooded in and everyone started admiring the amazing exhibitions inside the Sydney Lower Town Hall. An incredible range of diverse projects, from portraits to more documentary work, all tied together by great quality of the work and a skillful arrangement of the diverse areas of the space. 

I started obsessively looking for my photo in there and to my disappointment, found out that I had completely misread the program of the festival. The Head On Portrait Prize Finalists exhibition was gonna open the following day, in the Sydney Museum, and that night they were going to just announce the winners of the different categories of the prizes. 

Around 7pm, Moshe Rosenzveig, the director of the festival, jumped on stage and started thanking everyone for coming to the opening event and presented the prize categories.

My heart started racing. "Here we are, it's your moment. Be ready " is the thought that took over my mind. 

First category : Student.

Second Category : Mobile

Third Category : Moving Image

Fourth Category : Landscape

My heart was racing. I started imagining my name being called shortly. I imagined going on stage, receiving the prize, shaking hands, saying something stupid and out of context that would have made everyone laugh. 

Fifth Category : Portrait

"Here we are! Here we are!"

Third place : Samantha Evertone with Sawat   

"Great, I'm in top two then!"

Second Place : Glyn Patrick with John 

"Holy shit, Am I first? Did I win the first place! C'mon, say it, and the winner is... Nicola Bernardi with White" 

First Place : Molly Harris with Being Sandra

Fuck. I'm a loser. 

 And THAT, kids, is the WRONG WAY to think. But at the moment, I couldn't get it out of my head. 

Luckily, standing next to me in the process of giving this stupid italian head a hug, I had a great friend. 

Ollie smashed through my unconsolable armor and reminded me that it was an occasion worth celebrating, and there was nothing to be all bitter about. Our photo made it to the top 40 out of 8000+ submissions and we were there in Sydney, together, one step away from seeing our photo hanging in the Sydney museum. 

After the opening, we went out for dinner and a couple of drinks around the city. 

Even though she managed to clear my head from all the negative thoughts, I still had a hard time going to sleep that night. I had created all these unrealistic expectations in my head and the reality check was a hard one to swallow. 

But the next day, something changed my mind for good. 

We went to the Sydney Museum, we attended the opening of the exhibition of the finalists. We saw our work beautifully framed in the Sydney Museum, I even gave a little impromptu speech to the crowd in front of it, about how much I don't believe in artist's statements. 

The entrance of the Museum of Sydney 

I met a lot of the finalists at the exhibition and with every new person I'd meet, I started realizing that I am the most stupid person on earth for allowing myself to not appreciate this moments, this great achievements. When did I become cocky to the point where anything below first prize is not good enough? When will I stop being impatient about my future, my career? When will I stop waiting for this "magic turning point" in my career where everything changes? 

And especially, when will I stop this habit of looking always to the future, blinding myself of what happens HERE and NOW? 

I wonder now, how many of these little moments, of these little wins have I not even realized 'cause "they were not good enough"? 

On that day, it finally dawned on me. The bitterness disappeared and, like magic, I started appreciating what was around me a lot more. 

We went to hear Sandro Miller's speech and, excuse the word play, I was speechless. 

Such an amazing photographer but most especially, such an amazing HUMAN. Sweet, honest, humble. He told the audience the story of his career through his photos. 

I met him after his speech, followed him to the opening of his incredible exhibition "Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich" He inspires me SO DAMN MUCH. 

The next day Ollie had to leave for Melbourne and I spent the day visiting the other exhibitions of the festival, attending workshops and photographing the city for my last day. 

Thanks to the renowed energy and mental openess, I even started seeing little messages here and there. 

The day finished at the QT hotel, where my team got first in the Photography Trivia night. 

What a fun night to close this experience with. While leaving the hotel, I met with Olivia, the beautiful concierge of the hotel and snapped a few portrait of her, and her awesome fierce hairstyle. 

The next morning, I flew back to Melbourne.

This experience turned out to be incredibly different from what I expected. A big emotional rollercoaster starting from the lower end of the scale all the way up to highest point of it. 

I felt I had lost. I felt this little trip to Sydney was pointless. I felt beaten up.

In reality, my work got selected as one of the best 40 photos for a major portrait prize.

That's a WIN.

I spent a weekend with a person I deeply love and adore. And we got even closer together. 

That's a WIN.

I met inspiring photographers, mentors, editors, key players in the photographic industry and spent time with them, showed them my work, listened to their precious advice.

That's a WIN.

But most importantly: I am blessed to be able to make my passion my job. I am blessed of where it's bringing me, every day further that I could have ever envisioned. I have people I love in my life, I share this journey with family and friends. I am healthy, young, and full of fire in my belly. 

That's a WIN. 

I should celebrate, now I understand it. Celebrate every day.