Friday, November 12, 2010

Pamela Pecchio and Jeff Whetstone

Someone once said the very best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. So universities tend to be havens for fine art photographers. The good news is, you get a day job that pays the bills and also keeps you involved in your photographic practice.  You also get to spend lots of time with creative and energetic young people who have a way of keeping you on your toes.

A number of the folks on my lists of Southern Photographers are on faculties, including Kathleen Robbins at the University of South Carolina, David Simonton at Peace College, Leah Sobsey at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Shannon Johnstone at Meredith College, and Susan Harbage Page at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The current show at Raleigh's Flanders Gallery gives me the chance to feature two more Southern university-based photographers whose work is included in Allen Thomas' photography collection. One is Pamela Pecchio, who teaches photography at the University of Virginia (see image above); the other is Jeff Whetstone, a colleague of Susan Harbage Page at UNC-Chapel Hill (see image below).

Both Pamela and Jeff are Southerners, Pamela from Atlanta and Jeff from Chattanooga, and both received their MFAs from Yale in 2001. But their work is very different.

Pamela works in color, organizing bits and pieces of larger environments, both indoors and domestic as well as outdoors and natural in their setting, into highly idiosyncratic -- and highly provocative -- compositions. In this work, it seems to be the artist's process of setting apart this or that object, rather than the object itself, that compels the viewer.  Pamela brings our attention to a clock, a thermostat, a flower set against patterned wallpaper, a wall with shadows of the framed images that used to hang there. I didn't know I cared about these objects, but Pamela brings my attention to them, and juxtaposes one with another, in compositions that compel our attention. 

Jeff has worked in color, making images of graffiti that he found in his exploration of caves in his native Tennessee and in Alabama, but most recently he has been working in black and white, and in what one might call a conceptualized version of the documentary tradition.

Jeff's portfolio Zoolatry includes the repetition of composition and subject we are familiar with from the work of the Bechers and their followers, but also makes this English teacher think of Wallace Stevens' poem about placing a jar on a hill in Tennessee, a jar which in turn organizes everything around it. His portfolios Orozco, Kentucky, and The New Wilderness use the people and the landscapes of Southern Appalachia familiar from older photographers in an effort not to tell stories as much as to explore concepts of space and time and, in Jeff's words, the way "survival, dominance, and sexuality intertwine in our everyday interaction with the land."

Both Jeff and Pamela are doing great work, work grounded in their Southern backgrounds and histories and their engagement with time, history, and the land. They are both Southern Photographers We Watch Out For.

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