Katerina Gregos, ‘Panos Kokkinias’ Vitamin Ph: New Perspectives in Photography, Phaidon Press, London, 2006
Panos Kokkinias’ photographs are all meticulously yet discreetly staged. In his landscapes or cityscapes, improbable, bizarre often uncanny scenarios unfold in which the psychological relationship of human beings to their environs is the conceptual point of departure. Kokkinias keeps a physical distance from his subjects and sets up incidents or situations which are unobtrusively positioned in the picture frame. Initially it would appear that the landscape is of primary concern but upon closer observation one will find his work is clearly anthropocentric. Solitary, enigmatic, mostly diminutive figures almost invariably inhabit his pictures; figures that seem to be at odds with the world around them. Kokkinias’ photographs possess the same kind of metaphysical mystery and dark surrealism that can be found in the work of Gregory Crewdson, for example, but the artifice in Kokkinias’ photographs is constructed in a less conspicuous way and there is not as much a sense of drama, but more one of pathos and existential angst.
There is no fixed narrative in these photographs; instead they appear to the viewer as highly charged, distilled moments impregnated with meaning and symbolism, open to interpretation. Kokkinias seems more interested in creating an immersive mood or atmosphere rather than embarking upon a literal treatise on the unadapted, the maladroit, the lonely and the lost, which is what almost all the figures in his photographs seem to be. These are images saturated with a Kafkaesque sense of entrapment but also a feeling of disenchantment and futility, solitude and melancholy which seem to point to an underlying contemporary ennui or dissatisfaction with the world at large.
There is no wonder then, that a sense of alienation and dissociation seems to permeate these introverted figures who appear ill at ease with the space they occupy and rather seem to inhabit an asocial sphere, an impenetrable world of their own. In Itea, for example, a lonely man treks through what seems to be a quarry, suitcases in hands, on a road to the unknown. Where is he going? What does he wish to escape from? The answer is left to the viewer. In Syrna, the microscopic, barely discernible figure of a man is seen aimlessly dragging a chair through a burnt forest. Piraeus features a man and a dog seemingly idling inside an old dry dock in the dark of the night. Blackness and a sense of brooding pervade the atmosphere. The purpose of their presence there remains a mystery. This sense of mystery and enigma can be traced through many of the artist’s photographs, and is enhanced by the bizarre, uncanny, absurd or inexplicable actions Kokkinias’ figures engage in. It is precisely this sense of narrative ambiguity, this mystification and sense of the unknown that makes Kokkinias’ pictures so engaging but also rewarding for the viewer. The artist offers hints but never definitive answers, thus sparking off associations in our imagination enabling us to construct our own stories. Quiet yet disquieting, subtle yet poignant, Kokkinias’ pictures seem to penetrate our subconscious and linger as metaphorical or allegorical reminders of the lonely individual struggling to come to terms with his existence.