Stumbled upon these amazing photographs on my tumblr dash and initially thought they were photographs from the WPA during the Great Depression. They have that Dorothea Lange feel. Such an incredible story, wanted to share:
” . . . it just wasn’t the same Cabbagetown that it was. It disappeared. Where did it go?” ~ Oraien Catledge
Oraien Catledge first stumbled upon Cabbagetown while sitting on his couch one evening in the fall of 1978. He was flipping through the local news channels when he came across a town meeting in which citizens were discussing the fate of their community. The nearly 100-year-old Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills had closed their doors for the last time, and a lot of the locals – vestiges of an honest-to-goodness factory town that stood in the mills’ shadows – were destitute. Many of the people living in Cabbagetown in the late ’70s were direct descendents of the laborers imported from Appalachia to work at the mills since their construction in 1881. But much of the property would soon be up for sale to the rest of the city, and it seemed that the tight-knit community would unravel. “As they used to say, that was preee-sactly the moment that I learned about Cabbagetown,” Catledge chuckles through a bushy, snowy white mustache.
Catledge, 81, is an Oxford, Miss., native who moved to Atlanta in 1969 while working as a regional consultant for the American Association for the Blind. “I wasn’t a photographer back then and I knew nothing about photography, but I had an urge to do something creative,” he says. “I tried painting but the canvases just wouldn’t dry fast enough, so I went out and I got a camera.”
Catledge is legally blind, but dismisses his condition as a disadvantage. In a soft, grandfatherly voice, he says, “Oh … I can see a lot better than most people think I can.”
Soon after seeing the televised town meeting, Catledge set out in search of Cabbagetown, camera in hand, and by 1980 was documenting the fast-disappearing community. Over the next 20 years, he spent many of his weekends and free moments in the impoverished neighborhood, photographing the people, faces, and mostly the children, living in the crumbling houses and buildings.
The resulting body of work is a collection of approximately 50,000 negatives. The images present accidental landscapes disguised as portraits, as scene after scene of children and adults personifies the dilapidated surroundings. These stark black-and-white and rich sepia-toned photos are imbued with a quality that transcends time, capturing an era that feels much further away than the late ’70s and early ’80s. Much like Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl photos or Walker Evans’ Great Depression imagery, Catledge’s photographs embody the suffering and celebrations of a poor, undereducated white haven on the brink of disappearance.
Should I cut myself open and pour my heart on these pages? Or should I sit here and do nothing, nobody’s asking anything of me after all.
Should I jump off the cliff that has my heart beating so and develop my wings on the way down? Or should I step back from the edge, and let the others deal with this thing called courage.
Should I stare back at the existential abyss that haunts me so and try desperately to grab from it a sense of self? Or should I keep walking half-asleep, only half-looking at it every now and then in times in which I can’t help doing anything but?
Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?
Woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read. Fought against it for a minute.
Then looked out the window at the rain.
And gave over. Put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.
Would I live my life over again?
Make the same unforgiveable mistakes?
Yes, given half a chance. Yes.
~ Raymond Carver
Let me destroy everything that I’ve written
that doesn’t have to do with the way you walk like you’re trying to hold
the sky up with your palms.
I’ve been listening to the rain for the past couple of days, have
been listening to songs that sound like what the rain would say if she
spoke English instead of Morse code, and if my
translations are correct, all she wants is for us to stand beneath her
with our mouths open, mouthing — kiss me.
I love like a leaky faucet or I love like a dam breaking.
There is nothing in between.
When I met you, the little Dutch boy pulled his finger
out of my chest and suddenly, everything inside of me spilled out at once.
I puddled an ocean, rounded the corner on Third Ave all the way uptown
to Grand Central like a flash storm, and
I couldn’t touch a thing without inflicting
water damage, without you breaking apart every molecule
that I had ever known.
“How do I start this day, I who am unsure of how my life has happened or how to proceed amid this warm and steady sweetness?” ~ Albert Garcia, from “August Morning”
Friday, late afternoon. Sunny and cool, no humidity, 71°.
I’ve been sitting here for a while trying to figure out exactly what it is I want to say. I just don’t know. Part of me wants to write nonsense, cover subjects that require little thought, and truthfully, little active participation on the part of my little grey cells. But another part of me is quite introspective today, but I’m not entirely sure that I can go there.
Two choices. Two paths. The one less traveled by, and all of that, but I don’t know if I want to go down either. I feel a bit like Alice asking the Cheshire Cat which path to take. He doesn’t really answer her, just tells her that she’ll arrive somewhere.
Today when I was outside with Tillie I found a fallen bird’s nest, and it made me inexplicably sad. I mean, I looked it over, and the craftsmanship was impeccable. I had to hope that the nestlings were already long gone, that the feral cats that live in the bushes in the park next door didn’t find the nest and its inhabitants. Yes, it’s in a cat’s true nature to hunt, but that doesn’t mean that I like it.
Each year a bird builds a nest in our mailbox. The mail carrier and I have a tacit agreement: I don’t remove the nest, and he puts the mail off to the side away from the nest. But one year we had a substitute carrier, and when I went out to get the mail, I found the nest removed from the mailbox.
“What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?” ~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
My love of songbirds comes from Mari, from whom I learned which birds like which seeds. In the house that she used to share with her ex-husband there was a picture of Mari standing in a rubber rain coat and galoshes in a downpour. She was filling her bird feeders. Nothing deterred her from this daily routine.
Because her house was situated a bit off the beaten path and near water, she had phenomenal luck with hummingbirds. I put up hummingbird feeders but was only successful in creating a habitat for fire ants. I’ve never been able to attract any hummers to my yard; although now that I have so much more shade, perhaps I’d have better luck in growing hardy fuchsia plants, which are like beacons for hummingbirds. They don’t like really hot, humid weather, and every year I would hang several baskets only to have them wilt and die by mid summer.
I used to do so much more in the yard when Mari was around. Her love of gardening and birding was infectious, and we would spend hours roaming around garden centers buying pants and feeders. Even though I had planned to fill my planters this year with colorful annuals, I never got around to doing so.
My relationship with Mari enriched my life in countless ways. I miss that kind of friendship.
“Today in my heart a vague trembling of stars and all roses are as white as my pain.” ~ Federico García Lorca
You know what else I miss terribly? Teaching literature. It’s been so very long since I stood in front of a class filled with people who were eager to discuss a new poem, a new short story. I feel as if my mind is atrophying from a lack of outside stimulation. The creative mind is emboldened, nurtured by like minds. I remember one student in a section of American literature who began the class very quietly. Within a few weeks, he was volunteering to read poems aloud, and I could always count on him to add something meaningful to the discussion. In my mind, I can still see his face over a decade later.
Should I go back to school? I know. You’re wondering where that came from? To be honest, it has never left. It is always there, right next to the haunting knowledge that I will never have another child. The two things have carved out niches of emptiness in my soul that will never be filled. I can subsume them, and very often I can make it through a few days without thinking of one or the other or both, but never for very long.
It’s my ongoing inability to separate, to forsake that which is no longer a part of my life. I do not carry my heart on my sleeve—I carry my entire soul there, the esse that is me, omnipresent, looming just within reach, a tether that will never be long enough for complete separation.
“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
I warned you from the outset that this post could go either way, and now it’s obvious as to which path I chose.
In a symphony, the whole truly is the sum of its parts. A viola chord slightly off, or a cymbal a millisecond to soon—this things bear weight. Nothing is innocuous. Consider Mozart or Beethoven, who heard the sounds of these individual instruments within their minds, who heard the collective and the individual, who translated these imaginings into sounds of such pure beauty.
Now, consider Clarence Clemons and his impeccable saxophone solo in Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungle Land.” The sound is raw and deep and it cuts straight to the soul.
The sounds are antithetical, yet not. Clemons’s rendering when he played was filled with the same kind of passion that is often associated with Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy” from his 9th Symphony. So, too, the individual. We are capable of such beauty, and we are capable of such destruction. We can be rough and raw in our dealings with others, and completely tender in our interactions with a small child. Both the darkness and the light exist, and both carry weight.
“When I think I see clearly and, therefore, think about thinking about, let me be in the dark, measure and strain . . . And when I think it’s okay to sleep or that memory’s a comfort less malicious than happiness, give me the courage to deal these cards to the wind and keep walking.” ~ Ralph Angel, from “At the Seams”
Most of us exist somewhere in the middle, and still fewer dwell at either extreme, but some of us move back and forth like a child’s teeter-totter.
I can only tell you this: If I do not speak about these things, I will break. No, I am not a prodigy like Mozart who heard fully realized pieces of such immense splendor that they needed little rearrangement. But I do bear within myself a constant stream of thoughts and words, and sometimes the weight of these things threatens to drown me.
It’s as if somewhere an instrument is slightly out of tune, and I can sense this discord, and when this happens, the melody is simply impossible to realize, but time and life are fickle, always conspiring to steal bits and pieces from our lives unless we grasp what matters most firmly and refuse to relent.
As I sit here with the waning rays of the late afternoon sun bathing my face, I will leave you with this final metaphor, as this post has been rife with bad ones, so why not one more? Wood, specifically a newly felled tree. At first glance something of such mass would appear to bear so much weight that sinking beneath the water seems the only possible action. But when these logs are pushed into the water, they float. They are filled with air pockets. Borne by the current, they travel to their destination. Water, wood, and air come together in a perfect symbiosis.
Yes? See? Well, of course that’s ignoring that the log used to be a tree hanging out with a bunch of other trees before someone with a chainsaw decided its fate. And that bird’s nest used to sit in a tree before a predator knocked it to the ground.
More later. Peace.
Music by Matthew Perryman Jones, “Amelia,” just beautiful
I Like the Wind
We are at or near that approximate line
where a stiff breeze becomes
or lapses from a considerable wind,
and I like it here, the chimney smokes
right-angled from west to east but still
for brief intact stretches
the plush animal tails of their fires.
I like how the stiffness rouses the birds
right up until what’s considerable sends them
to shelter. I like how the morning’s rain,
having wakened the soil’s raw materials, sends
a root smell into the air around us,
which the pine trees sway stately within.
I like how the sun strains not
to go down, how the horizon tugs gently at it,
and how the distant grain elevator’s shadow
ripples over the stubble of the field.
I like the bird feeder’s slant
and the dribble of its seeds. I like the cat’s
sleepiness as the breeze then the wind
then the breeze keeps combing her fur.
I like the body of the mouse at her feet.
I like the way the apple core I tossed away
has browned so quickly. It is much to be admired,
as is the way the doe extends her elegant neck
in its direction, and the workings of her
black nostrils, too.
I like the sound of the southbound truck
blowing by headed east. I like the fact
that the dog is not barking. I like the ark
of the house afloat on the sea of March,
and the swells of the crop hills bedizened
with cedillas of old snow. I like old snow.
I like my lungs and their conversions
to the gospel of spring. I like the wing
of the magpie outheld as he probes beneath it
for fleas or lice. That’s especially nice,
the last sun pinkening his underfeathers
as it also pinks the dark when I close my eyes,
which I like to do, in the face of it,
this stiff breeze that was,
when I closed them, a considerable wind.