Laura Dean Bennett
The number of talented artists we have here abouts is amazing.
Sometimes, it seems we may have more than our share – they are tucked into every crevice of the county.
Customers at the Levels Café, in Hillsboro, while enjoying Delsie’s good food, can also enjoy exquisite photographs by photographer Doug Chadwick.
There are currently seven of Chadwick’s photographs on display. By their titles – Williams River Bank, Greenbrier River, McMillion Place Jacox, Hills Creek, Beaver Pond on Kennison Mountain – and their very nature, they are recognizable as having been captured locally.
Like a lot of our friends and neighbors, Chadwick wasn’t born here, but he considers Pocahontas County his home.
He’s lived in West Virginia since 1970 – first working for a newspaper in Oak Hill, then a stint with the Beckley newspaper, before coming to live in Pocahontas County. He settled in Buckeye, then moved to his home in Hillsboro where he’s been for the last 30 years.
“I’ve never seriously considered living anywhere else,” Chadwick said.
He was born in North Carolina, grew up in Upper Marlboro, in Prince Georges County, Maryland and studied photography in college – at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.
Chadwick’s photography has appeared in many magazines in the U.S. and in England.
Readers of Goldenseal will undoubtedly be familiar with his work, as he has appeared in that venerable publication many times.
Pocahontas County called and Chadwick answered when he came here to be an “artist in residence.”
“Susan Burt and the local Arts Council came up with the idea of having this position and I replied to their ad.
“After I was hired, they told me the other applicant for the position didn’t make it, partly because of admitting to finding the roads here to be difficult, and I said, ‘that’s one of the things I really like about the area. I love the winding roads.’”
When Chadwick moved here, he not only loved the roads, but he loved us, too.
“The best things about living in Pocahontas County are its natural beauty and the people who live here.
“Everyone is so friendly and welcoming,” Chadwick said.
For instance, Chadwick and Ruth Taylor became friends right away, and the relationship continues to this day.
“Ruth set up a darkroom in the basement of her store, and I taught adult photography classes there in the evenings,” he said.
Chadwick is well-known as a panoramic photography specialist. His interest in that particular format originally came about as a result of his interest in old black and white photos of coal miners.
Chadwick and a friend found some old film negatives of coal miners in southern West Virginia – panoramas taken from the late teens to the 1950s by Rufus E. “Red” Ribble.
They were captivated by the unusually detailed and graphic images.
Ribble shot these panoramas with an old rotating camera, a “Cirkut” Panoramic camera made by Eastman Kodak from about 1903 to the late 1930s.
Ribble’s rotating camera produced eight-inch by four-foot negatives, which eliminated the need for the negatives to be enlarged.
“We made panoramic prints, and found there was an eager market for them,” Chadwick said.
Chadwick soon moved on from making panoramic prints to shooting with a Cirkut Panoramic camera of his own – and for the past 40 years, it’s been his specialty.
“I’m recognized for my panoramic work – it’s kind of my niche,” he admitted.
Chadwick’s camera, a Cirkut Panoramic built in 1921, produces a 10-inch by five-foot negative.
The size of these negatives makes it difficult to find paper to print the photos.
“I have a freezer full of film, but the paper is hard to find,” Chadwick noted.
He uses the panoramic camera to photograph family reunions, weddings and all sorts of large gatherings, but finds that car collector groups are especially interested in panoramic photos.
His panoramic photography caught the attention of many large groups.
His commission work keeps him on the road a good bit.
“I travel about ninety percent of the time, and most of the time I’m driving,” he said.
“It may be hard to get in and out of here because we’re a little remote, but at least I’m not fighting traffic, not like some of the places I travel to where the traffic is non-stop.”
His panoramic work has also taken him inside many state capitols.
“I call them political portraits,” Chadwick said.
“I photograph state legislators in their chambers and have done panoramic photography in about a dozen legislatures.
“When I was first starting, I guess I must have thought about the way the legislative chambers are shaped and thought you could set up a camera and take a panoramic in that room from the speaker’s podium,” Chadwick remembered.
“A room that has desks in semi circles lends itself to an interesting perspective.
“The panoramic camera straightens the semi circles into straight lines, therefore, you can recognize everyone at their desks,” he explained.
“It’s been really interesting to see the state capitols. I’ve worked in so many capitols – from Boston to California, and from Florida to Texas.
“My first commission at a state capitol was in Charleston when I went to the West Virginia State Capitol to do a panoramic portrait for the state legislature in 1983 or ’85,” Chadwick recalled.
He’s had photos in the Huntington Galleries, the West Virginia Juried Exhibit, the Gallery at Sunrise and the Cultural Center in Charleston.
He had a one-man show in the Henri Gallery, just off Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. and has shown in Lewisburg at the Washington Street Gallery.
In addition to photography, Chadwick also has an impressive body of work in film and video documentaries.
In 1979, he and Susan Burt co-produced the documentary, True Facts in a Country Song, the life of West Virginia musician Everett Lilly, which aired on West Virginia Public Television.
Not all of his panoramic photos have legislators or scenery as their subjects. Some lionize car collectors and their vehicles.
“Some of the most fun jobs are the car collectors and their cars,” he said.
Coming up, Chadwick and his Cirkut camera will be travelling to North Carolina.
“I was supposed to be doing the North Carolina legislature next week, but because of the COVID surge, they may have to reschedule,” Chadwick said.
“As soon as they pick a date, I’ll drive down to Raleigh.
“When I do these commissions, I always stay as close to the capitol as possible.
“I tend to be a little nervous the day before, and I like to get to the capital at least a day or so early.”
But there are a few perks to savor after all these years of travelling. Chadwick has a friendly port in most cities he visits.
“I have friends in most states now,” he said, smiling.
“I hope to visit with my friends in the North Carolina Symphony while I’m in Raleigh.
“We met when they used to play in the West Virginia Symphony.”
When the Levels Café opened, Chadwick’s assistant, Gina Schrader, suggested he hang a few photographs there.
The pictures make for an attractive backdrop in the charming café, and they are for sale.
They reflect Chadwick’s conviction that, in Pocahontas County, there’s almost no bad place for a great picture.
“Gosh, good photographs are just everywhere you turn in Pocahontas County,” he said.
“You can probably tell by my photographs that some of my favorite natural setting subjects are creeks and rivers.”
From the home Chadwick built along the Greenbrier River in Hillsboro, he has an inspirational four-season perspective.
“I can see the mountain top where Beartown is, and I can see the Greenbrier River from my house.
“I can even photograph bears right in my own yard,” he laughed.