Marked for life: Pecchio's domestic investigations

Pamela Pecchio, "Offspring."
Pamela Pecchio, "Collection."

Our homes are like our bodies. We dress them–hang wallpaper, arrange tchachkas–to express who we are. But our “slips” still sometimes show despite our orchestrated efforts. Such intimate spaces also bear our scars, the unintentional coffee splatters and paint scrapes that reveal how we’ve lived. These accidental marks become so familiar we often overlook them.

Both kinds of domestic evidence interest photographer Pamela Pecchio, who wields her camera like an artistic archeologist uncovering mundane wonders. The 17 luminous color images in Pecchio’s exhibition, “Habitation,” on view at the University of Virginia’s new Ruffin Gallery, explore the visual richness of humdrum domesticity.

More than mere documentary records, Pecchio’s investigations are layered and complex. On the one hand, they provide vignettes of particular aspects of specific homes. In “Offspring,” floral green wallpaper provides the backdrop for three portraits of 1950s-era toddlers hanging crookedly above a neatly made bed. The image immediately feels familiar, reflecting a generic American sentimentality.

In several images, Pecchio uses gentle humor to observe how people often try to preserve memories physically but reinvent them in the process. A disc of frosted glass painted with trees hangs in front of a screen window that looks out onto an actual wooded garden in “Trees.” In “Collection,” elaborate chinoiserie wallpaper hangs behind two mounted sets of souvenir spoons from around the world, their exoticism made not exotic at all. In fact, the images’ only excitement comes from the disorderly arrangement of the right set of spoons.

This kind of close observation enables Pecchio to create stunning compositions out of the most ordinary scenes. Each photograph rewards time spent with it by revealing internal relationships and details that are not obvious on first pass.

In her most recent work, Pecchio explores left-behind marks, shifting into the realm of abstract art. The beauty of these images is tied to yet separate from the concrete circumstances photographed. Circles of light and shadow run vertically down the left side of a white wall in “Coffee,” while architectural molding spans the frame horizontally near the bottom. Random coffee splashes, some faint, some strong, complete the abstract composition.

In general, photography reproduces well in print, but Pecchio’s images require in-person viewing for full appreciation. By mounting her C-prints directly onto plexiglass, she imbues them with a luminosity that enriches the colors and provides startling spatial depth.

Viewed through Pecchio’s lens, there really is no place like home.

Pamela Pecchio’s “Habitation” is on view through November 28 at the University of Virginia’s Ruffin Gallery on the third floor of Ruffin Hall, 179 Culbreth Road. 924-6123.