Going Away From Here photo gallery event

By: Deandre Hogg

Assistant Producer

Tarleton State University’s Fine Arts Department is holding a photography event over credited photographer and current Baylor assistant professor H. Jennings Sheffield titled Going Away From Here.

Baylor assistant professor and photographer H. Jennings Sheffield. Photo Courtesy of Baylor University department of history/art.

The exhibit is open Sept. 13 through Oct.10 in the Clyde H. Wells Gallery of Arts in Stephenville. It is free for all students, faculty and staff. This exhibit is not open to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Sheffield exhibit focuses on Tangier Island, which is off the Chesapeake Bay coastline in Virginia. The island has been deemed uninhabitable by the townspeople in the area for the last 50 years. No-one has noticed or worked to remedy these problems until Sheffield started taking photos of the damaged island.

“I have spent the last three years photographing Tangier Island off the coast of Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay which is progressively being claimed by the waters surrounding it an average of nine acres every year,” Sheffield said. “Tangier is projected to be uninhabitable in 50 years if nothing is done about it. When the residents are forced to evacuate, they will spread out over Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. We will lose an entire culture of people as unique as their dialect, and although they will still exist–the land they have called home for hundreds of years will not. This once untouched and proud crabbing community is predicted to be one of America’s first climate change refugees.”

Shefield’s art exhibit located at the Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center.
Photo by Sierra Dyson.

Here at Tarleton, one of our very own professors has been in contact with Sheffield and has worked with her before. Chris Ireland, a Fine Arts and Digital Media professor is thrilled about the exhibit’s message and sharing it with students.

Ireland knows there is a major climate and habitat problems going on right now in the United States and as well around the world. He believes it is important to keep people, including college students, informed about what is happening across the globe so that they can advocate for change.

Ireland said, “Happening right now in the world, are raging wildfires across California, catastrophic hurricanes across the gulf, as well as record high temperatures across the US along with rising ocean tides. So how long until parts of the country become inhabitable due to climate change? And how will we decide what communities to save versus what communities will disappear under water?  This isn’t the plot of some science fiction novel, or the warnings of some doomsday predictor…these are the realities the people of Tangier Island face today.”

Ireland praises Sheffield’s work because it shows his students and other faculty what problems the world is facing. Also, the photos show true brilliance, stunning, and breathtaking shots of what there is to come if Sheffield did not shine a light on this problem.  

“Jennings is an extraordinarily gifted image maker whose work has inspired me for a long time.  I was excited to show this series because this is one of the first exhibitions of this brand-new body of work anywhere. I think Going Away From Here is important because she is using her considerable skills as a photographer to show the effect of climate change on American people in a way that can break down barriers of mental resistance and inspire advocacy. The photographs, while aesthetically beautiful, show us a very grim reminder of the people, culture and history of a place that will be literally washed away and gone forever in a single generation,” Ireland said.  

Sheffield is holding a virtual lecture event during Chris Ireland’s Advanced Photo and Digital Media classes on Thursday, Oct. 1 via Zoom. If you would like to take part or have your classes be a part of the lecture, contact Chris Ireland. 

Sheffield’s Going Away From Here exhibit is just a piece of what she is trying to show the world. She has aspirations of creating a book of projects like this one with the Tangier Island. She will use the earnings to give back to the island of Tangier for residence aid and future projects.

“I am in the process of creating a fine-artist book of this project. Ultimately it is my desire to find a publisher to create a coffee-table book that will allow for wider public dissemination of Tangier’s story, and accessible by a greater audience. It is my hope to give a portion of the proceeds from the coffee table books back to Tangier Island and its residents to aid in their goal of building a jetty for future protection from erosion,”  Sheffield said.

Sheffield loved this project and is feeling good about where it’s going. She cannot believe how a day trip turned into a life changing event for her.

Sheffield said, “I cannot tell you how many times I have shown this work and had someone ask, ‘How did I not know this was going on?’ I always joke, what started as a half-day trip over to an island in 2017 has turned into a life-time project.”

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