Vassilis Pantelidis photography
Pantelidi’s images are a result of fermenting the tragic and the comic in life

Vassilis Pantelidis

Art protects us from reality

Text: Tassos Retzios || Photographs: Vassilis Pantelidis's Archive

Looking at Vassilis Pantelidis’s photography at Thessaloniki PhotoBiennale 2021 –part of the Open Call to emerging Greek photographers, which is supported by the Cultural Society of Entrepreneurs of Northern Greece – one is likely to experience an uncanny uncertainty. Are they a portal into the realm of hyper-realistic tragedy or merely (?) a journey into the colossal comedy of human life?

Under the title monologues, his ongoing photographic project consists of a series of conceptual self-portraits which are exhibited at Stereosis until early December. As the program explains, it is “an amalgamation of heterogeneous episodes which trace the human condition, a result of fermenting the tragic and the comic in life. The individual scenes adopt a theatrical approach where abstraction, paradox and the absurd, as well as repetition, weave a claustrophobic thread around the human subject, with no redemption or solution. The setting points to an undetermined place; one of existential quests and metaphysical human agony, suspended between the truth and the fiction of existence, the accidental and the uncertainty of life, embellished with sarcasm and irony – monologues of a tragic comedy or a comic tragedy.”


Vassilis Pantelidis studied industrial design and, following a brief stint in this field, expressed a desire to learn the photographic medium at age thirty. He had never used a photographic camera before then.

“My first thought was to make photography a hobby for my spare time,” he tells us today. “Fairly quickly, my approach changed, as I sensed that photography could become a language of expression using which I could write my inner thoughts. Then, photography established a bridge through to my great love, cinema. So, I recently started studying at the School of Film of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.”

Visual essays?

We ask the artist to offer a central philosophy of his images, mentioning they are reminiscent of visual essays, yet he explains that “photographs are the result of a mechanical interaction with the world, while their level of realism is up for interpretation. A photograph is a record of the world – a trace of reality – and at the same time, a projection of our desires. Looking at a photograph can often reveal aspects of things that we would rather not see; the essence of the world with all the contradictions, the difficulty, the pain that surrounds it. An image with strong content claims a permanent spot in our consciousness and makes the act of vision difficult – physically, mentally, emotionally and aesthetically. According to Walter Benjamin, the photographic lens reveals the optical unconscious just as psychoanalysis reveals the instinctual unconscious.”

When he takes on the mantle of the director to compose his pictures, he draws material from personal experience – “both from the real world as well as the world of dreams.” He is interested in concepts such as “time and memory, identity and the body, symbolism and stereotypes, as well as escapism into fairytales and myths both modern and older, which comprise part of our collective memory. An idea materializes in my mind, usually instantly and unannounced, and somewhat shapeless; then I give it form step by step, on paper first”.

Being fairly new to photography, he continues to study the medium’s history and theory, as well as the works of iconic figures in the discipline, “many of whom I appreciate and admire to no end,” as he says. Nevertheless, his main influences “are found in other forms of art – mainly cinema, theater, literature, drawing and music.”

Interpretation and emotion

Does Vassilis Pantelidis consider art to be a tool with which to interpret the world? “Art’s main function is twofold: to dispute and to imagine, so that it can elucidate the human experience,” he replies. “It interprets the world but mainly re-interprets reality, creating alternative versions of it as well as alternative worlds to escape to. Truth and reality are ugly; through art we protect from them, we stay alive. A ‘lie’ such as art leads us to the truth, putting the prevalent chaos in order.”

Through the photographic medium, Vassilis Pantelidis “does not seek to have the viewer feel a specific emotion, just like their composition does not stem from a single unique and predefined meaning looking to be transmitted to a receiver. I would liken my pictures to a conundrum whose solution is not offered, neither is it obvious or easy to find. In fact, maybe it seemingly does not exist. Personally, their optimal function is to pose questions rather than constitute self-evident statements. What I am really interested is the viewer’s personal pursuit as achieved through active viewing – so that, starting with and galvanized by one of my images, she or he can mentally compose her or his own, assigning to it alternative narratives.”

Between the real and the imaginary

The images of the monologues series seem captured right on the border between the real and the imaginary. Is he interested in tracing these boundaries?

“I would characterize my pictures as visual metaphors that contain a fluid reality. The composite elements of the frame can carry their property and constitute symbols at the same time. To use semiotics terminology, the signified and the signifier do not need to be separated but can coexist; similarly, the function of denotation and connotation can align and/or be interchangeable. Correspondingly, my ‘self-direction’ in the context of the composition is more than a mere representation of my body. As the great Anton Chekhov writes in ‘The Seagull’, ‘We should paint life neither as it is, nor as it should be, but as we see it in our dreams.’”




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