When I arrived he was cutting some thick mastic-tree roots. “They start off from up there but they reach down here where I have my vegetable plot. I will also bring down dirt and I will move all these stones to the side near the fig-tree. When I came here all these rocks could not be seen – they came up after my digging and clearing.” The small house and the property around it are in a narrow valley in the southernmost point of the island, on the mountainside. If you don’t know about it, you ‘ ll have difficulty finding it. It has a few olive-trees, mastic-trees, fig-trees, grape-vines and, these days, he is trying to make room to plant some more vines.
Vassilis is slim, upright in posture, never still, and always wearing a checked yellow headscarf, like an old-time villager in his field. Looking at him it is impossible to imagine his history. The occasion for our conversation was the site he made (“the hard work with the programming was done by a friend in Holland”) with his 3D photographs: www.hekkema3d.nl.
“I bought this piece of land in ’86, when we first came to Chios, everything was very cheap then, but there was nothing, no electricity, no water, no telephone and there was not even a road to Dotia. In Holland I studied graphic arts, dance and theatre – I had a very important teacher and I wanted to be with him. I worked in the theatre for 15 years, I was a theatre director. But I stopped because I was diagnosed with cancer and the doctors gave me a 50% chance of survival. The work in the theatre was hectic so I turned to graphistics and photography. This was in the ‘80’s. My life changed drastically as a result of my illness. I divorced and I came to live here permanently in ’95. I was in my 50’s then. Together with a friend from Chora we built this in a few days – it was he who “christened” me “Vassilis”. Greek is a difficult language but the ancient Greek I knew from school helped me a lot.
I was born in Amsterdam. I lived in a houseboat on the River Amstel for ten years. The beer took its name from this same river Amstel, but also the city, too: “dam” in Dutch means “dam”, like in English, so “Amsterdam” means “dam on the River Amstel”. My grandfather had a photo-camera with two lenses on it that took 3d photographs, which you could see with special glasses. He had a box full of double photographs stuck on cardboard. I was 8 years old and, I remember, travelling on a train, moving them I could trick my eyes and see them 3d. In Greece I had more time to devote to photography (these last few years I have been a pensioner) and in the beginning I made pinhole cameras, which I needed for a seminar I held in Sifnos for German Architecture students. After this, I continued with small digital cameras, but I had to “tinker” with them, so that I could take photographs simultaneously from five of them. Ever since I was a child I was crazy about radios, so I know a few things about circuits, but it is in the theatre that you learn everything, it is there that you have to do everything. In 2005 I held a big exhibition in The Hague. There are three photographs from it on the site. But all this work with 3D photographs was really too much work.
I have decided that I will live here. I used to go to Holland for work from time to time, until I got the pension, but my life now is here. I will go to see my sister for a little while. My sister is a pianist, my family has a musical tradition. I, myself, am an amateur musician, I like jazz, but here it is difficult to find other people to play jazz together and to jam. Perhaps this is the only thing I miss here.
I am a little, how can I say it? A barbarian? Even when working in the theatre, I always did what I had in my head. I never wanted to see what people were doing in the other theatres. Ok, maybe they were doing important things, but I didn’t need them. I think there is everything in nature: Look at the light in the sky. If you want, you can be learning all the time. Man is too small to know everything.”
“Do you take photographs now?”. “I like pencil-drawing or water-colours more. Christina paints with oils – myself, I don’t want that. When drawing you need time. Photography is very quick. I take photographs every day. I always have this small camera in my pocket.”
For the last few years, he and his life-partner have been living in a larger house, which again they themselves built in the same area.
It got dark. I forgot myself with our conversation and I didn’t take any photographs. I take only few.
“”Ah! You can see the fridge here. I never used a fridge here. I have electricity from the solar panels. I use the fridge as a cupboard. I store my agricultural tools in it.”
At the end of September I visited Vassilis again. A lot of things have changed since the last time I took photographs. The vines he planted have grown and he makes his own wine and “tsipouro”. This year he planted fruit-trees. “Here there used to be some old mastic-trees and I rooted them out – it was hard work with all those roots. I then planted fruit-trees. The vines did not fare well this year, they were struck by fungi. It’s a powdery mildew – its scientific name is “oidium tuckeri”. I faced a big problem, I lost almost all of them. I was forced to spray them with pesticide, but even so very few were saved.”
When leaving I asked him about the basil plant in the big old earthenware jar, which was so beautiful and big: “The secret is: a lot of water. If you water it a lot, it grows tall and doesn’t have time to flower, which stops the growth.”
Translated into English by Yorgos Mavrogianis