William Wylie and Exploring Pompeii
Pompeii as a place is forever associated with the idea of time stopping, of the awesome and terrible power of nature in the form of the volcanic eruption in 79AD that overcame the city and took the lives of some 2,000 of its people. What it left behind, beneath layers of ash, was an entire city virtually intact, and clues to the daily life of an ancient civilization. Yet for William Wylie, the beauty of Pompeii lies not only in what was frozen in time centuries ago, but the way time has moved on around it. In his recent Fralin Museum exhibition, Pompeii Archive: The Photographs of William Wylie, Wylie features eighteen of his large-scale photographs captured over five years of visits to the site. Wylie’s photographs are hung along those of German photographer Giorgio Sommer, known for his images of the early excavations on the site in the 1860s. The photographs are born in part of Wylie’s fascination with Sommer’s work, and specifically his strategic use of photography to flatten the picture plane and create layered and stratified images that evoked archaeological processes. “Change,” Wylie has said, “is inescapable at Pompeii…I’ve been documenting the changing relationships between artifacts, ruins, spaces, and the passage of time.” In a recent interview with UVA Today, Wylie talked about the unique ways past and present collide in this ultimate lost city. “For me, much of the mystery of Pompeii lies in the site’s layers,” he said. “Archaeologists work by uncovering and studying the deposits of past eras. But even contemporary visitors experience the site in this way. I was motivated to try and make photographs that revealed some of Pompeii’s complexity, the way multiple pasts intersect there with our 21st-century present.” Wylie’s ongoing research, and the body of work that has resulted from it, was supported by the Yale University Art Gallery’s Doran Artist in Residency in Praiano, Italy. His book of more than eighty images for the series, Pompeii Archive, was published by Yale Press in 2018. This exhibition is made possible through generous funding from The Fralin Museum of Art Volunteer Board.