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Kudzu and Heavy Metal

The work of photographer Pamela Pecchio

Rainbow in the Dark by Pamela Pecchio

While driving down a familiar road, photographer and UV pArofessor Pamela Pecchio saw elements of her most recent series, On Longing, Distance, and Heavy Metal, come into focus. The long path that connected two of her distinct worlds at the time—her job in Charlottesville and her home in North Carolina—was lined with lush Southern vegetation.

“The landscape started to blend together like the lines of a knit sweater, revealing a very specific palette of color,” she says. Though Pecchio’s attention was on arriving at her destinations, the “in-between” started to take shape.

The soundtrack of Pecchio’s journey, and an element of the series’ concept and title, was heavy metal music playing from the car stereo. The music motivated her to make good time, and it also colored the scenes passing by her windows, an orchestra of dense sound complementing and informing the landscape. Pecchio—a self-described visual person—became a synesthete, her senses of sight and sound unifying into one. “I saw the palmetto being swallowed by the vegetation around it. The scene was complex and layered, like a metal song. I felt the heavy drums and bass moving through it, and even the small white flowers in front took on the sound of a squealing guitar on top of all the other sound,” she says.

Pamela Pecchio, a graduate of the University of Georgia and the Yale University School of Art, has taught at the University of Virginia since 2008 as an assistant professor of photography. She continues to show her work in national, international and online venues, and was featured most recently in Flak Photo Online Magazine, Southern Spaces Journal and The New Yorker. Eric Kelley
“As I made the trip repeatedly, I would see the same selections of land; I started to pick out spaces to stop when the light was just right— at dawn or dusk, when the muted palette revealed the atmosphere I wanted to portray in the photographs.” Despite the urgency to reach home, the impulse of the artist won out on occasion, precipitating lengthy stops along the way.

In a review of the series in Southern Spaces Journal, Grace Hale says that Pecchio captured the “implication in the multiple springs and summers required for vegetation to grow this tangled and thick … Anyone who has ever seen a Southern spring will recognize the knotted and budding forsythia, rendered almost violent here in an absolutely brilliant print titled ‘Rainbow in the Dark.’” (See photo above.)

This subdued light—with its dry greens and rusty oranges—was a Southern light that was captured on the large-format camera Pecchio uses for many of her photographs. “I found that even when I lived in New England, I would still make my best work when visiting the South,” she says. And although Pecchio doesn’t identify herself as a Southern artist, she notes the unique flora and atmosphere of the region as well as the draw it has for her.

Habitation (Paintings) by Pamela Pecchio
The great outdoors is not Pecchio’s only subject matter. Her body of work also includes interior images, devoid of figures yet including an implicit human touch. With Pecchio’s 2008 series Habitation, domestic interior scenes reveal details of the worn surfaces of human life. In one photograph, we see stained wallpaper and the darker squares where picture frames once hung. The tone is similar to On Longing—there is always a presence in the photograph, whether that of someone who has just left or of a story to be revealed.

Pecchio no longer has to make long road trips—she has settled in Charlottesville and started a family. But her creative impulse is still a driving force. “I think there is always a part of me that is restless,” she says. “Even while fully participating in this phase of my life, my energy toward making work continually builds up.”