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