Antonio Pantoja: Images in Darkness

Local Artist Profile: The dark and hauntingly beautiful images of multi-award winning Louisville photographer, Antonio Pantoja, are generating an escalating buzz on the local and national art scene and bringing a unique, spooky ambiance to traditional model photography in the Ville.

Descending on the local video and photography art scene like a fiery phoenix in full plume, Antonio Pantoja’s instantly iconic and darkly haunting work has seen the local photographer reborn as a new voice of the underground modern Goth subculture. In just the last two years, Pantoja has secured over fifteen local video and cinematography awards from the Louisville A-List, the Floyd Film Festival and the 48 Hour Film Festival among others.

In the interest of full disclosure, Pantoja also shot a number of haunted attraction videos for Louisville Halloween in 2013 and there are plans in the works for him to expand his work with our website in 2014.

Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Pantoja caught the “horror bug” at an early age. “My cousin showed me ‘The Exorcist’ when I was about 4 or 5 years old,” he says, “and as a result I slept with my parents until I was 12 years old. I totally ruined their sex life.”

Adolescence brought with it one of the darkest periods in Pantoja’s life. His mother succumbed to the perils of drug addiction, leaving Antonio to mostly fend for himself. “Without adult supervision, I made a lot of bad choices. It was up to me whether or not I went to school, so mostly I didn’t, and I dropped out after the eighth grade.”

I was somewhat shocked by this admission, as I’d imagine anyone who ever met him would be, as Antonio comes across both extremely intelligent and warmly charming. A rough upbringing has apparently forged a uniquely human artist with a singular vision.

Completely self-educated from the eighth grade forward, Pantoja has never let his lack of formal education become a stumbling block to success. Currently a very successful sales executive for a major corporation, he has recently begun to re-examine his life with a passion to pursue his interests in photography and filmmaking.

“You start out just thinking, ‘If only I could make, say, $100,000 a year, I could have everything I ever wanted,’” he says, “but there’s always a price. The more the company offers you, the more of your time they’re going to demand, and when you finally get where you thought you wanted to go, it all feels empty. You’ve accumulated a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t really mean anything to you, and you don’t have much of a life in which to enjoy any of it.”

Pantoja’s interest in photography was actually born out of a tragedy; the death of his father when Antonio was 24 years old. “I had recently bought a crappy camera and shot some footage of him before he passed,” remembers Pantoja. “I suddenly realized that this little bit of footage was all I had to remember him by, but that footage could live forever. A photograph is timeless.”

“I went out and bought a better camera because I wanted to do the same thing with my baby daughter,” he continues. “I shot a whole ‘day-in-the-life’ short film of my daughter going on with a normal day and I uploaded it onto the Internet. From that one video, I got thousands of hits and hundreds of messages from people I didn’t even know.”

“I was hooked. From that point, I started taking photos of people at the gym I was going to and they started using the photos for promotional purposes, and this resulted in me getting sponsorship for my work from the gym.”

“All of this led to a job doing fashion photography for Street Moda and the Affliction clothing brand,” he continues. “Now, I’ve recently opened my new photography studio in Bluegrass Industrial Park.” His official Pantoja Film and Photography business is now going into its third year, and you can see lots of sample work at

Even though Pantoja could probably make ends meet shooting commercials, corporate promotional videos, music videos and weddings, his love of the horror genre has led him down some unusual paths, including video shoots at several of the best local haunted attractions last Halloween.

“I’m a total horror movie addict,” says Pantoja, who has an “Evil Dead” tattoo on his left leg, Frankenstein and his Bride on the right and a zombie Audrey Hepburn on his foot! “Halloween has always been a big night in my life. When I went trick-or-treating as a kid, I wasn’t satisfied with the little pumpkin bucket the other kids had. I brought a giant sack, and sometimes I had to go home and dump it before I’d go back for more.”

What are some of Antonio’s recent favorite horror films?

“Last year, I really liked the ‘Evil Dead’ remake,” he says. “Some of my other recent favorites include “Haute Tension” (2003), “Martyrs” (2008), “I Saw the Devil” (2010) and, especially, the remake of “Maniac” (2012) with Elijah Wood.”

The future looks “dark” in Pantoja’s horror career, which is to say it looks promisingly filled with horror related projects. “A friend of a friend knew the secretary at Stephen King’s office and she contacted my writer, Jason Jones, and his office ended up letting me have my choice of currently unlicensed King short stories to adapt. I chose a story called ‘The Woman in the Room’ from his 1978 Night Shift collection. They sold me the rights to make it for one dollar.”

That particular King story was adapted before by “The Walking Dead” creator, Frank Darabont, in the 1980’s. “I was actually kind of disappointed in Darabont’s take on it. I’ve got a completely different direction I want to take it in, and honestly, I think we’re going to totally kill Darabont’s version!”

Be sure to keep an evil eye out for the work of Antonio Pantoja in the Ville and abroad. Check out and keep checking back with us at Louisville Halloween for more exclusive video and photos. Unpleasant dreams, my friends.

The Phantom of The Ville

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