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2019 SPE Annual Conference: The Myths of Photography and the American Dream / Major support by The Joy Family Legacy Foundation

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Michael Sherwin

SPE Member since 2006
Member Chapter: Mid-Atlantic

Vanishing Points

I grew up in the quiet suburbs outside Cincinnati, Ohio in a mostly conservative, white, catholic community where nearly all of my friends and neighbors attended church on Sundays. Although my parents had grown up in catholic households, it was in their independence that they begun to question their relationship to the church. On Sundays, my father would often take my younger brother and I on long wandering walks in the dense forests of the Ohio River valley. These early formative experiences have led to a life long exploration of the mystery and beauty of our natural world. They have also left me with looming philosophical questions about the tenants of Western religion and its views on the sanctity of the land.

In the name of Manifest Destiny, westerners expanded across America claiming the land was theirs by divine right. Modernization and civilization swept across the continent "improving" the country and eradicating entire native cultures in its path. In my most recent project, Vanishing Points, I explore the ancestry of the American landscape, and reflect upon traditional Western Anglo American views of nature, wilderness, ownership and spirituality. The project was inspired by the battle over the use of land that is now the Suncrest Town Center in Morgantown, WV. The Town Center was developed on a 2,000 year-old sacred indigenous burial ground and village site less than a mile from my house. I am fascinated by this simultaneous presence and absence in the landscape, the seen and unseen.

Combining extensive research of historical archives, maps and contemporary satellite imagery, as well as direct collaboration with archaeologists, historians and scholars I have been able to locate and photograph numerous significant sites of Native American history in the regional area. The sites I choose to visit and photograph are literal and metaphorical vanishing points. They are places in the landscape where two lines, or cultures, converge. They are also actual locations where the sparse evidence of a culture's once vibrant existence has all but disappeared. While visiting these sites, I reflect on the monuments our modern culture will leave behind and what the archaeological evidence of our modern civilization reveals about our time on Earth.

One of the allures in visiting these sites is the possibility to reach back in time; to imagine and experience what the land must have been like hundreds and thousands of years ago. I am often reminded of the experiences I had as a child, where the presence of something ancient, mysterious, and much larger than myself still exists. However, nearly every direction you point the camera in today's world, evidence of our modern civilization intrudes. It is this duality of experience that I seek to portray in the Vanishing Points project. The photographs in this series recognize the historical significance of an otherwise banal landscape, connecting a mysterious and ancient past with the familiar present.

Boat Ramp, Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area, WV

Mural, Point Pleasant Riverfront Park, Point Pleasant, WV

Factory, Ohio River, Marshall County, WV

Conus Mound, Mound Cemetery, Marietta, OH

Prayer Hands, Faith Chapel, Vinton County, OH

Shawnee Overlook, North Bend, OH

Sunrise, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Chillicothee, OH

Big Bottom Massacre State Memorial, Morgan County, OH

Grave Creek Mound, Moundsville, WV

Stump, Great Miami River, Hamilton, OH

Reconstructed Dwelling, Sun Watch Indian Village, Dayton, OH

Suncrest Towne Center, Morgantown, WV

Laundry, Indian Mound Campground, New Marshfield, OH

Sand Pile, Little Miami Golf Center, Newtown, OH

Mattress, Natrium Plan, New Martinsville, WV

Fishing, Muskingum River, Lowell, OH

Red Fox Roadkill, James A. Rhodes Appalachian Highway, Vinton County, OH

Railroad Lines, Moundsville, WV

Chickamunga Mound, Chattanooga, TN

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