On August 20th, 2015, Gaines Hall burned. Atlanta's 2nd oldest building, built in 1869, mysteriously caught fire and filled the city with heavy smoke and soot. I remember the day it burned, the smoke was thick, ash visibly floating in the air even 4 miles across town in Virginia Highlands. As the evening approached, my friend Katarina invited me to join her on the rooftop of the Telephone Factory on Ralph McGill to watch a truly unique Atlanta sunset. Between the summer storm we had earlier that afternoon, and the soot lingering in the air from the Gaine's Hall fire, the sky was coming to life in breathtaking fashion.
I logged a quick note about it in my photo journal that day:
Gaines Hall was a 145-year-old building on the campus of Morris Brown College in midtown Atlanta. The former dorm stood abandoned until August 20th, 2015, when it burned. I had never heard of this building before, but Thursday evening I, along with the rest of the residents of Atlanta, inhaled its remnants deep into my lungs. I climbed to the top of The Telephone Factory Lofts and captured this photo of the sunset its ash and smoke helped create. The city will soon be tearing down what remains of the structure to protect citizens in the area. I hope when I go, I leave such beauty behind.
So, moments before sunset, Katarina & I climbed to the top of the Telephone Factory Lofts and ventured out on the roof to capture a sunset a century & a half in the making. I'm happy to report that in the days following the fire Atlanta's Mayor Kasim Reed committed to preserving the remains of Gaines Hall and its historical significance to the city, but at the time, the building's fate was unknown and the moment was one not to be forgotten. Katarina snapped a couple shots of me doing my thing including one of my favorite pictures of myself, laying face first in a puddle hellbent on getting the shot I wanted.
I don't think I realized it at the time, but what I captured that evening embodied everything photography is to me. Stay with me here, It'll make sense I promise. I believe art is about seeing the world just a little bit differently than everyone else, and finding a way to share it with them through your eyes. My mom was blind, didn't see her surroundings the way you or I so often take for granted...but by sharing my pictures with her growing up, she could literally put her nose right on the screen and study all those little details I was seeing & experience it for herself in a way she never could have without my vision. As I grew up I realized it's not just the blind who don't see everything in their world, none of us can. We're all blind to something. By sharing my vision I can bring a beauty to the world people may never otherwise experience. That's the realization that launched me into a career as a visual artist, photographer & designer sharing my point of view with millions of people around the world.
So there I am, choking on the taste of 145+ years of burnt lumber invading my nostrils along with the rest of Atlanta, visibility limited by thick smoke that's keeping most "sane" ATLiens inside that evening until it thins out. I climb to a rooftop in the Old 4th Ward and watch the sunset behind the beautiful skyline through all this haze and smoke shooting rays of a million different colors off from the horizon. I drop to my belly & catch the reflection in this puddle & it's a whole new world. A Rorschach test of epic proportions. In a moment that could have been considered a very dismal Atlanta evening, I found pure beauty.
This summer, when the Atlanta BeltLine commissioned me for 3 installations for Art On The BeltLine 2017, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. The BeltLine epitomizes my belief that art is about finding beauty others may miss and sharing it with them. An abandoned railway corridor and dilapidated factories, revitalized into a 22 mile long linear park with green space and paths that bring the entire city together, not to mention the biggest outdoor art exhibit in the southeast! The BeltLine inspired my POV collection. Starting with 3 pieces, including "o4w POV" seen here, printed larger than life directly onto corrugated steel and mounted in reclaimed industrial materials in the spirit of the beltline. Each piece is on display where I captured it along the BeltLine's eastside trail, to encourage passersby to stop and see the city they love from a new Point of View.
But that's not all. The POV series has evolved into so much more, currently on display at Brickworks Gallery in Virginia Highlands steps away from the Beltline on Greenwood Avenue, with limited edition mixed media photos of some of my favorite viewpoints throughout the city I call home. In the coming days and weeks I will highlight more of the work in POV and the stories behind them in this blog, so stay tuned!