Interpretation is both a danger and freedom. As viewers, we are led to read and attach meaning to anything that is in front of us. However, the work of Vasilis Nikolopoulos is trying to trick us as both the freedom of interpretation and its inhibition are of equal importance in his publication Today is my Birthday.
The book is originally inspired by a story of a magician who is preparing for the most important magic trick of his career: the one that would transfer his partner to a dream, allowing him to observe her future. Nonetheless, this vision does not meet his expectations of living together happily ever after. Instead, the apparition reveals that she is going to have a lonely life without his presence. Consequently, the magician is overwhelmed with questions about whether he is going to accept this vision or disregard it as a mere illusion.
The story can be understood as a metaphor that mirrors Vasilis’s way of working, pointing to the human search for meaning in the meaningless world. His photographs are deeply existential, atmospheric and poetic; they are directly piercing our emotions. Be it parts of human bodies, nature or interiors, his black and white photographs allow us to contemplate their nature, particularly, the interplay of light and shadow since colour is absent. While the black and white immediately connotes pastness, the images’ surreal settings seem to ruminate upon the future. Therefore, there is an underlying sense of ambiguity felt from the imagery, having an obscured connection to reality.
By investigating the notions of human existence and identity, Vasilis’s photographs oscillate between mental and physical space. He prioritises emotional states, particularly the feeling of anxiety – an awareness that people tend to marginalise and avoid. The almost irrational symmetry of 6x6 and harsh flash makes his images infested with mystery. Instantly, they make us question what exists beyond the frame or what lies underneath their surface? There is also a sense of loneliness radiating from the imagery as the places depicted are usually abandoned, deteriorating and where people seem to be in their own world.
Returning to the story of the magician, we begin to see an analogy with the title Today is my Birthday. Even though the magician pursued his trick, it is not clear if he is still with his lover doing magic or if he chose a completely different path. Just as the magician, every year on our birthday, we are facing the same dilemma. As we set new plans and goals that still need to be achieved throughout our lives, we come to the realisation that perhaps there will not be enough time to accomplish our dreams. We are reminded of the fact that we are slowly becoming closer to death. It is this existential angst that drives the cycle of life while leaving it upon us to decide which path to choose.