For some, the most essential form of storytelling is the power of the written word, but for photographer and artist Polixeni Papapetrou, photos can transport the mind into a surreal world of narrative.
Through her photographic career spanning more than 20 years, Papapetrou creatively reinforces the importance of the image that carries her style and cultural identity.
Papapetrou’s works reflect her social stance regarding identity and freedom, which boils right down to her most basic yet powerful inspiration; a small box of black and white photos that tell the tale of her Greek heritage.
“As a young girl growing up without an extended family, I was fascinated by a box of black and white photographs that my parents had, which portrayed their past life in Greece.”
“These photographs were the only link to a life I heard about and a family I had never met.”
Without these photos, Papapetrou would not have had the chance to know her own grandparents or to imagine their existence. It is for this reason that photography is one her of most “treasured objects”.
Before venturing into photography, she worked as a lawyer for fifteen years.
A book of photographs by Diane Arbus inspired her to begin her journey, “persuaded by the stronghold of art”.
“Arbus’ photographs showed me how we can use the camera to tell stories about the world we live in,” Papapetrou adds.
In her earliest days, Papapetrou used photography to narrate the lives of those “who lived on the edge of the conventional mainstream and those who were exploring personal identity through dress and popular culture”.
The lives of drag queens, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe impersonators, circus performers and body builders were portrayed – all tied together by a common thread of “identity representation”.
In her most recent works Papapetrou uses her children as subjects, teasing out questions surrounding the institution of childhood by “taking the viewer into the realms of fantasy and storytelling to challenge expectations regarding the visual portrayal of the child”.
Surreal attributes commonly take form as mythical creatures and fantastical landscapes fused with the image of a child.
With these snapshots she wishes to oppose how “society typically defines childhood”.
For Papapetrou it is all about generating connectivity through pictorial narrative.
Her most recent storytelling work will be featured in an exhibition entitled ‘Storm in a Teacup’, comprising approximately 50 works including painting, photography, sculpture and installation.
Through a part-reality-part-fantasy interpretation she aspires to explore the country’s ‘tea-culture’ as a lavish display of settler understandings of refined gentility.
The exhibition also features artists such as Charles Blackman, John Perceval, Emma Minnie Boyd, E. Phillips Fox and contemporary artists Stephen Bowers, Danie Mellor, Penny Byrne, Rosalie Gasgoigne, Matthew Sleeth, eX de Medici and Anne Zahalka.
‘Storm in a Teacup’ will be open from 24 July to 27 September (Tuesday-Sunday 10.00 am-5.00 pm) at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery (Civic Reserve, Dunns Road). Exhibition admission fees are $4 adults/$2 concession. For more information phone 03 5975 4395 or head to www.mprg.mornpen.vic.gov.au