I first became aware of the work of Vern Mcclish when I stumbled into the last day of his gallery show in Nelsonville in rural Southern Ohio. It was one of those little happy accidents that I’ll always remember.
Having grown up in Appalachian Ohio myself, seeing his work was like time travel, it took me back to a unique place and a time that I had long forgotten.
When I saw the evocative nature of the images that so brilliantly captured the essence of these unseen people, I thought for sure it they were made by a local photographer.
Fast forward to today, when I decided to publish SPM I knew I had to track down this “local” photographer and learn his story. To my surprise I found him, in Western Massachusetts.
As a long-haired young college student of the period…a “hippie” as the locals would have called him, Vern would travel the backroads in his Volkswagen micro bus capturing the faces and places of the local residents and making friends along the way. It was more of a pastime than a project at the time, but in the process Vern created a large body of work that tells the story of an area that most Americans don’t even know exists
After finishing college Vern moved on and life got in the way, as it does to everyone. It wasn’t until almost three decades later that Vern began to revisit his work and look at it with a different eye.
He began to focus on the image of his “mystery girl as a symbol for the work.” This a photo of a young girl of about 12 years old with very mysterious look on her face. Vern was kind enough to allow us to use this as the cover photo for this issue. He realized that his work told a story of a people that we often don’t see. And knew that the story wouldn’t be complete until he finds the mystery girl and tells the rest of her story.
When his friend, National Geographic photographer Sam Abell, saw the work he insisted that Vern publish it and find the mystery girl.
Today Vern has digitized his images, printed and hung some for his gallery show, published some on his website and plans to publish a book…with the mystery girl on the cover.
This summer he’ll be taking a road trip back to the region to find her.
Watch the two-part interview with Vern in the June issue of Street Photography Magazine.