by Jeremy Morrison
For one year — over the course of 2011 — local photographer Rachael Pongetti chronicled the evolution of Pensacola’s 17th Avenue train overpass, more commonly known as Graffiti Bridge.
Graffiti Bridge has long been a sanctuary for artists, or anyone with a can of spray paint, to make public proclamations. Messages of love or loss, references to sports or politics. All are ripe for the bridge’s canvas, and all will soon be covered up by the next layer of the ever-changing facade. Near perfect democracy.
For a year, Pongetti photographed the various incarnations of Graffiti Bridge daily. Preserving all the fleeting moments, while ultimately celebrating and embracing the concept of impermanence.
“For me it really wasn’t about graffiti, and it really wasn’t even about that bridge,” Pongetti explained. “It was just about learning how to realize that things are impermanent and things change.”
The project took shape during a challenging time in Pongetti’s life. She’d just been through a divorce. Things, in general, were not turning out like she thought they would.
When a friend suggested photographing Graffiti Bridge, Pongetti didn’t think too much of the idea. Until she began to consider the structure’s ever-changing nature. That she found intriguing, that notion interested her.
“I think in hindsight I was just really trying to understand life better, you know?” Pongetti said. “I just really felt like I’d kind of been kicked in the teeth a little bit by life. I think art is a way for me to process and observe life, so the bridge provided that for me, because it changed everyday.”
Throughout the year, Pongetti shot the bridge and observed its metamorphosis. She watched the parade of art and messages, knowing that they would all be covered up in short order.
Sometimes a work of evident thought and talent would be quickly masked by a crude scrawling. That would sting.
“Something would be covered up with something really stupid, with little thought and little art technique,” Pongetti explained.
But that was, ultimately the point. Things change. Sometimes for better, sometimes not. But, always, change.
“It was just about going through that, letting go, all the time,” she said. “And letting go of attachments.”
Her work photographing the bridge, born out of the Pensacola Graffiti Bridge Project Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign, has resulted in the recently published “Uncovering the Layers” book. In addition to Pongetti’s photographs, the work also includes a detailed history of Graffiti Bridge — the painting of which the city of Pensacola officially sanctioned in 2009 — as well as the author’s project journal entries, an exploration of the history of graffiti and an essay by Pensacola’s Poet Laureate Jamey Jones, who also served as the book’s editor.
“Uncovering the Layers,” a lush, hardbound volume, is available online, as well as at local bookstore Open Books. The author is also scheduled for some signing events during the holiday season.
On Dec. 21, Pongetti will sign copies of her book at Open Books, located at 1040 Guillemard St., from 6 to 8 p.m. She will also be sitting down with local writer and University of West Florida professor Christopher Satterwhite — who authored a November cover story about the project for “Inweekly,” a weekly newspaper in Pensacola — for a question-and-answer session.
On Dec. 23, the author will sign books at Marty Campbell Gallery, located at 114 Palafox Place, from 3 to 8 p.m. During that event, at 6 p.m., Pongetti will engage in a discussion with Jones entitled “The Collaborative Spirit of Uncovering the Layers.”
While the Graffiti Bridge Project officially wrapped at the end of 2011, Pongetti has continued to photograph the bridge. She’s fascinated by the structure’s changing nature.
But, she notes, while the bridge embraces change, the area sounding the overpass is also home to the surreally familiar.
“It was so strange, we were driving by the other day, so bizarre, and there are people that practice fencing out there at one of the parks, right next to the bridge,” Pongetti relayed. “In the 1800s, that was a dueling ground, like people would go out there and duel. In a way they’re still doing the same thing that they did way back when, which is, you know, really kind of cool.”
Copies of “Uncovering the Layers” can be purchased locally at Open Books, or online at pensacolagraffitibridgeproject.com.
To read the SANDpaper interview with Pongetti, click here.