In the introductory essay to Vanishing Points by photographer Michael Sherwin, author Josh Garrett-Davis muses on the concept of longue durée — a phrase that frames an approach to history writing which focuses on events that occur in long-form. These events cannot be identified in any single moment, moving with almost imperceptible slowness, but they are nonetheless an unfolding of a changing relationship between people and the world. As Garrett-Davis notes, this idea would seem to be deeply at odds with the medium of photography, which generally and by nature seeks to capture a fixed moment rather than an extended movement.
And yet, as the work in Vanishing Points reveals, photography and the slow creep of history can become unsteady bedfellows, as long as the artist knows what to photograph. Michael Sherwin engaged in an exhaustive period of excavation for this work, visiting sites of historic and ritual importance to the indigenous occupants of North America. From there, the book finds him juxtaposing vast, sweeping landscapes with studio-staged details of bits of detritus found on these sites — a crushed soda can, a fragment of animal bone, an abandoned child’s toy — treating them with the same kind of anthropological reverence usually reserved for trash from thousands of years ago.
In Sherwin’s work, the tradition of landscape photography collides with notions of the US road trip narrative. There are people who take to the road to see the country by way of its current inhabitants, and people who do so by avoiding the living and seeking the spaces that still hold a sense of emptiness that suggests what once was. It would have taken a prescient member of the Meškwahki.aša.hina (Fox) tribe, the original occupants of the place where my house sits today, to see the view as I see it out my window. But there are places in the woods, or the sweeping vistas of the Southwest, where I can imagine I am looking at a panorama just as it appeared to someone who lived there 1,000 years ago. Tree time dwarfs us humans, and geologic time makes motes of us all.
Sherwin has a canny eye for these glimpses between the lines of history, at turns reverent and humorous. A sweeping playa punctuated by jutting mesa, then a wrought iron bench in front of a mural of Native American villagers building huts, then an empty pint of sour apple liquor under the brand Johnny Bootlegger, then a small hill — maybe a midden mound? — then a dead goose fallen by a curb at water’s edge, a dead fox on a rural roadway, a little bit of charcoal. A tiny spray of wild orchids. A parking lot. The poetics of Sherwin’s cultural study unfold slowly and powerfully, until everything gels into a tapestry of collective meaning. This, I suspect, is longue durée, and the investment made by Sherwin in assembling this evidence is not only singular and powerful, but an invitation and reminder that any one of us is part of that slow movement through history and possesses the potential to frame it, and in doing so, change it.
Now playing the Cannes Film Festival, the new film from the director of The Square embarks on a luxury cruise that goes to hell.
By enshrining her memories into sculptural form, Juárez celebrates her emotional pilgrimage through the growing pains of childhood to adulthood.
A journey spanning three continents over 1,500 years comes to the National Mall in Washington, DC. On view at the Smithsonian’s NMAA through September 18.
These university museum leaders are bridging cultural chasms through elaborate and generative work with their students.
Curators at the Maidan Museum in Kyiv are sifting through the rubble for items that “tell the story of ordinary people’s lives, of their deaths.”
Graduate student work representing 19 disciplines is featured in a digital publication and returns as an in-person exhibition at the Rhode Island Convention Center.
The cube, which has fallen into disrepair, was strapped in place by supportive metal implements at its base.
Inigo Philbrick misrepresented the ownership of and fraudulently traded in works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yayoi Kusama, and others.
Installations by Jessica Campbell, Yasmine K. Kasem, Suchitra Mattai, Haleigh Nickerson, and Nyugen E. Smith are now on view at JMKAC in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Author M. T. Anderson walks us through a sonic gallery of Vasily Kandinsky’s musical influences, which guided the painter’s pursuit of art that reveals a mystical, inner truth.
In yet another horror movie that’s actually about trauma, writer-director Alex Garland makes his points bluntly, having one actor play many facets of misogyny.
Time is itself a recycling process for Cole, whose freewheeling spirit transcends linearity in his excavations of art and music history.