Seven Photographic Reflections on UVA

Anchored by classical form and landscapes, energized by a vibrant community, and transformed every few months by nature, the University and its surroundings naturally inspire beautiful and evocative photos.

This article features several examples created by a range of photographers, and reveals the inspiration behind the images.


The greatest thing about being a photographer for the University is that it’s a small city. Any type of story that can be told can be found here. There are stories of triumph and defeat, of success and failure, and an unlimited supply of fascinating and engaging people.

It’s a privilege to hold this job and walk the Grounds in the footsteps of the photographers who came before me. Their images are now part of the history books and the UVA identity, and that’s a great responsibility as we go into our third century. It’s an honor I don’t take for granted.

UVA is an inspiring place, and it’s changed how I take photos. More importantly, the people here have taught me so much. Even though I’m not a student here, I’m still getting an education. That’s the power this place has.”

“You would think that after a few years of being a photographer on Grounds there wouldn’t be much left to photograph. Yet I constantly find ways to show Grounds that I’ve never thought of.”

“At UVA architecture is so integral to the overall experience, and not just the traditional architecture you might think of. There are so many spots here that become meaningful to people.”

Sanjay Suchak

University Photographer

I want to evoke that sense of happiness and joy and the lively spirit of the school. Because at UVA not only do you have strong academics, but you have this vibrancy in student life. I’m someone who is really into academics but I also have an artistic side, a fun side.

I did a lot of photography work in high school and also had an exhibit this past summer. When I got to UVA there wasn’t the same sort of art and photography community I was able to have in high school. So I’ve been seeking out opportunities at UVA to develop these skills. I’m part of the fashion club and started shooting for an alternative fashion magazine.

The power of photography to me is that because I’m such a busy person, there’s so little time for introspection. But when I’m shooting I am quieter and looking at the world around me. I can stop to notice the shadows and light, and the reflections on mirrors and windows. It’s sort of a meditation. I’m constantly fidgeting with things, sometimes that leads to me taking photos, like the photo of the professor in my Chinese class.

I’m not sure where my path will take me at UVA, but I think photography is something I’ll always have a passion for, always keep up with.”

“I love the lines and the mood in this one. Just stopping everything and enjoying being outside.”

“California sunsets are nothing special compared to what we have on the east coast. This one was unusually beautiful.”

Courtney Spagna

Student Photographer

I mainly work with a large-format camera on a tripod. That is a very slow process and I usually take a single exposure after setting up and adjusting the camera.

But for this project I used a lightweight digital camera in preparation for an upcoming project in Japan. I wanted to be spontaneous and record things as they caught my eye.

Normally I spend a lot of time thinking through the framing and composition, making it formally tight. But working with that smaller camera I found myself approaching things differently.

Taking a cue from the American street photographer Garry Winogrand, I would fix the camera focus on a certain distance and just walk around, through groups of people or past architecture, and make exposures quickly, without worrying about exactly what was in the frame at the moment. I knew I could edit for the most interesting photographs later.

One of those is the velvet rope image. It’s just “off” a little bit. Part of the reason I did that and why I love Garry Winogrand is that a good photograph can be the result of chance and choice coming together. And that’s something that can be harder to embrace that people think. Usually I like to be more involved and to tighten the screws down a bit.

Central Grounds and the Lawn are great places to spend time. And while I don’t normally photograph here, I find it an interesting place to be. It’s inspirational to be around good form.”

“I worked quickly, capturing whatever caught my eye. Often that was a flash of color.”

“It’s inspirational to be around good form.”

“I spend so much time in my office I thought, why not start here? And this person was there, peeking over at me.”

Bill Wylie

Professor of Photography

One of my main influences is Sam Abell, who lives here in town. His whole stance is composing the back of the photo first, and waiting for the subject to come to you. I also like to have some mystery in my shots—I like to make people say ‘what’s that all about?’

The x-factor in photos can be anything that makes you think below or above the surface of the photo. Something that gives the photo life, mystery, and the potential to “marinate” and get better with time. Some of the photos I like the best are five or more years old.

Good art can be interpreted differently by different people. People put their own meaning into things. But the element of those things that leads people to interpret them differently is that x-factor, that element of mystery.

I also use these approaches in my wedding photos. My clients know I’m going to approach wedding photography that way. Those shots are usually my favorites right away. I think for the clients they may become favorites over time—after they have time to “marinate.” But I can’t help myself if I see an interesting background and have the opportunity to wait for the bride to come into it.”

“They always say ‘shoot what you know,’ and I’m a people person. I like photographing people. And I’ve found my most popular images are of people.”

“This was the Yeardley Love memorial. My eye is always drawn to the man in black. And the light: low light plus the candles."

Tom Daly

Freelance Photographer, A&S ’06

My great-grandfather had Alzheimer’s. And you could be talking to him one minute and the next minute he wouldn’t know who you were.

So as a kid I thought maybe if I had pictures of things, in 30 years they’re going to bring back good memories and make me feel good. That’s the main reason photography is so important to me.

At UVA I’m exposed to so many things I enjoy taking pictures of. Whether it’s Athletics and getting out in the community for Madison House. All of things I’m doing at UVA put me in places where I see all sorts of different people together. And that doesn’t always happen in Chesapeake.

I really like the pictures where you can see the emotion going on, where you don’t need a lot of background information.

I don’t necessarily want to be a professional photographer, but I always want to take pictures. So I can always remember people. Photography will always be a part of my life.”

“It just makes me happy to see other people happy. I guess that works for other people too.”

“My mom and brother came to see me and cheer me up. Usually he’s trying to be really cool.”

“I always want to take pictures, so I can remember people.”

Cayla Eason

Student Athletics Photographer

I’ve been here for 10 years. The first five were without my dog Gibbs. Those years are kind of uneventful in my memory.

Gibbs comes with me on walks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Everyday we meet someone new. He’s a good ambassador. If it wasn’t for my walks with Gibbs I might not have the rapport I have with people on Grounds.

I’ve had students come by the office just to say hello to him. They remember his name but not mine. And I have several relationships at work that are based on Gibbs and me coming past their offices.

A lot of times his interactions with other people lead to good shots. He’s amazingly photogenic and knows when he’s being photographed.

Mostly it’s when people are at his level.

Gibbs really introduced me to the beauty of Grounds. He has introduced me to different parts of the University. I pick up on that vibe of his: “Let’s go out and explore.”

“Gibbs is amazingly photogenic and knows when he’s being photographed.”

“I think a lot of students miss their dogs back home. In this case he just jumped up between these two.”

Rick Stillings

Staff, School of Engineering

As art teachers and students we’re surrounded by art, and there’s a history of photography of documenting objects for other artists. And that’s not what we do in this corner of the building. We’re making our own art. We’re not just depicting the world, we’re taking what’s on Grounds and turning it into an actual object.

The pictures my class created for this project reflect their experience finding their place in the UVA community and in Charlottesville. They’re exploring the relationship between the University and the place around it.

I see it as my job to help students see photography as a physical interaction with the world. So I love when they start to interject themselves into spaces in different ways. The picture of the man’s hand touching the tree is a great example of this.

I’ve had students say that what they appreciate about being photo majors is that they stop to look around the world much more. We engage so much in online communities that sometimes we forget to engage in the community we’re sitting in. I tell them that they have to walk across Grounds and just look around—no phones.

Sometimes we go for a walk as a class without cameras: just looking at the world. You should be able to take a picture of anything anywhere and make it the most interesting picture it has the potential to be.”

— interview with Pam Pecchio
Liza Pittard

“This student is photographing mirrors she found on the ground, using them to document the act of photographing.”

Arrietta van der Voort
Emily Hoade

“This one acts as a metaphor for her stage of life, which is one of transition and finding her place in the world.”

Charlotte Bemiss

“This photograph is a great example of how photography can transform everyday subjects into something new.”

Amitha Muthia
Jason Murphy
Sienna Turecamo
Elizabeth Morley

“The woman who took this photograph has a background in modeling. Her interest in looking and being looked at is part of her work.”

Pam Pecchio

Intermediate Photography Class Professor