The remains of slaves lie buried in a forgotten culvert. A desolate parking lot sits crumbling over the site of Lumpkin's Jail, a notorious holding pen for slaves before they were sold.

A photography exhibit opening today at The Valentine Richmond History Center shows how some of Richmond's infamous history is being shoved aside and ignored. "Tell Me Where You're Marching, Tell Me Where You're Bound" is a 13-picture exhibit exploring what has become of sites once important to the buying and selling of slaves.

Photographer Shanna Merola went to four Richmond locations to capture the disrepair and neglect that are now where the Manchester Dock, the Negro Burial Ground and more once were.

"I'm a history person, and I started reading up on the history of the slave trade. It amazed me what was here and what wasn't documented or what is just now being documented," she said.

Merola, 27, said she was inspired by such books as Selden Richardson's "Built by Blacks," which discusses Richmond buildings and historical sites that were constructed by slaves, freed blacks and blacks in the Reconstruction era.

A native of Connecticut, she was fascinated by the history of Richmond's thriving slave trade and how it has gone unpreserved.

Merola began taking the pictures as a personal project. As a student in Virginia Commonwealth University's Photography and Film Department -- she graduated in December -- she decided to submit the photos as her senior project.

To film these historic sites, she used a historic type of camera. A pinhole camera is a box or cylinder with a tiny hole on one side and a piece of film on the other. It has no lens and no shutter (the photographer often uses his or her hand) and requires long exposure times -- anywhere from five seconds to several hours or even a day.

"The time exposure makes you sit there for a while. I've done long-exposure photography ever since I picked up my first camera. It forces you to sit and be there with the land for a while," she said.

Merola, who is contemplating going to graduate school, said that in the past she has approached her photographs artistically, arranging the objects within them to create the picture she desired.

The exhibit at the Valentine Museum is her most journalistic work -- her pictures show scenes exactly as they are. The crumpled traffic cone over what was once Lumpkin's Jail was there when she took the picture.

Merola is still involved in working with sites of historic importance to early blacks. She occasionally goes out to help clear the overgrown Evergreen Cemetery off Nine Mile Road, the burial site of many prominent Richmond blacks, including Maggie Walker.

Sometimes Merola goes with a shovel and rake. Sometimes she goes with a camera.

Contact Daniel Neman at (804) 649-6408 or dneman@timesdispatch.com.

 

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