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LISTEN: Photographer Describes Capturing “Vanishing Points” In Appalachia

Stump.jpg
Michael Sherwin
Stump, Great Miami River, Hamilton, OH - from "Vanishing Points" 2013-14 series

Remnants of former prehistoric societies exist throughout Appalachia. One photographer is trying to capture glimpses of those ancient times in a series he has dubbed “Vanishing Points.”

Michael Sherwin is an associate professor of photography at West Virginia University. When he moved to Morgantown with his family several years ago there were protests happening around the development of what is now the Suncrest Town Center. West Virginia University sold an ancient indigenous burial site to developers. Sherwin entered the scene after a super-Kroger was built.

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Credit Barend Jan de Jong
Wista 45 SP. “With this process, you shoot film. You never really know what you’re going to get,” Sherwin said. “I enjoy that anticipation.”

Sherwin says historical landscapes have always fascinated him. He shoots with a large format camera like the one Ansel Adams used. He says there’s a mystery to the process that he enjoys - a break from a world of immediate gratification. 

So he hauled his camera to an overlook of the growing shopping center on the edge of Morgantown, composed the shot, and then processed the negative.

It was the beginning of what has become a series Sherwin named “Vanishing Points.”

Suncrest Town Center, Morgantown, W.Va. “It was less than a mile from our house,” Sherwin said, “and I was shopping there. I was kind of torn by this kind of dual-identity of this landscape. And so one evening I decided I wanted to photograph it.”
Credit Michael Sherwin
Suncrest Town Center, Morgantown, W.Va. “It was less than a mile from our house,” Sherwin said, “and I was shopping there. I was kind of torn by this kind of dual-identity of this landscape. And so one evening I decided I wanted to photograph it.”

Sherwin began to research what ancient remnants of lost civilizations in the region still exist, then seek them out to photograph them. Images in the resulting series usually incorporate some strangely banal detail of modern society that coexists with some former society’s faded mark on the landscape.

RoadEnds.jpg
Credit Michael Sherwin
Road Ends, Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area, W.Va.

LISTEN: Photographer Describes Capturing “Vanishing Points” In Appalachia
Sherwin remembers taking "Road Ends."

Then, some of Sherwin’s images show no obvious trace of former society at all.

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Credit Michael Sherwin
Grave Creek View, Moundsville, W.Va.

LISTEN: Photographer Describes Capturing “Vanishing Points” In Appalachia
Some thoughts on "Grave Creek View."

Sherwin’s series includes some 60 images. He says it’s an ongoing project but that he’s at a point where putting a large show together would be possible. It’s something he hopes to achieve in coming years in this region. One of the benefits of shooting with large format camera is the incredible detail that is captured, he explains, so the actual prints would be really big (three or four feet tall).

DeerBlind.jpg
Credit Michael Sherwin
Deer Blind, Bass Island Park, Newtown, OH

LISTEN: Photographer Describes Capturing “Vanishing Points” In Appalachia
Sherwin makes the most of a rainy situation.

ChurchMound.jpg
Credit Michael Sherwin
Zaleski Methodist Church Mound, Zaleski, OH

LISTEN: Photographer Describes Capturing “Vanishing Points” In Appalachia

Factory.jpg
Credit Michael Sherwin
Factory, Ohio River, Marshall County, W.Va.

LISTEN: Photographer Describes Capturing “Vanishing Points” In Appalachia

Mural.jpg
Credit Michael Sherwin
Mural, Point Pleasant Riverfront Park, W.Va.

LISTEN: Photographer Describes Capturing “Vanishing Points” In Appalachia

His project was made possible in part with grants from the Colonel Eugene E. Myers Foundation, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, the National Endowment for the Arts, and with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.

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