Pompeii Archive

2015William WylieAmerican, born 195735 × 42 in. (88.9 × 106.68 cm)

William Wylie made these photographs as part of a seventy-eight-print series entitled Pompeii Archive, which spans a four-year photographic investigation of the ruins at Pompeii that the photographer began in 2013. In the archive, Wylie photographs Pompeii at a variety of scales, from interior spaces to decaying courtyards to views that span miles of land beyond the ruins. Among Wylie’s influences for the project are photographs of Pompeii from the nineteenth century that were popular among tourists seeking to take home a permanent piece of the ruins. The immense detail in these large-format, monochrome images is also reminiscent of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s (1720–1778) etchings.

Wylie describes the ruins of Pompeii as, “not a moment but a history, a process of change over time, the accumulation of the physical traces of past experiences.” His photographs draw attention to the weathered traces in the ruins, which tell a visual history. The ruins pictured in Cubiculum, House of the Ancient Hunt and  Peristyle, House of the Colored Capitals or House of Ariadne are located near one another in space. In both, Wylie explores archaeological value as well as the separate, dynamic lives of ruins and the world that interacts with them. The photograph of the cubiculum—Latin for “room”—centers an empty space in the wall, once occupied by the fresco Polyphemus and Galatea, before it was removed from the site to enter the collection of the Naples National Archaeological Museum. This finely detailed photograph makes apparent the effects of continued human intervention as well as the deterioration that occurs naturally over time. Similarly, in Peristyle, House of the Colored Capitals or House of Ariadne, Wylie highlights a past perfection by positioning the camera to view even rows of columns that were once identical, now at varying levels of disrepair.

By shooting in black and white, Wylie blurs the lines between the ruins and the textures of the natural world—grass, trees, and stones. In Looking Northeast, Amphitheater, the arena seems to become one with the surrounding grass, as the stairs along the oval stadium dissolve into the ground. Wylie suggests that no clear line can be drawn between the living present and the static past, that there remains a tension between the two.