For Art's Sake - Past and present

Two photographers chronicle our changing cityscape

Little's Grill and Grocery on Carroll Street in Cabbagetown has been in Leon Little's family since 1929 when his father J.M. started the business. It is a living museum to the neighborhood and the past. Leon took it over in 1967, but you don't get the feeling that moving product is Little's primary aim in life. It's more a circumstance that allows him to operate a kind of symbolic life raft in the rapidly changing mill village. His store retains the charming character of a way of life nearly vanished and exemplified by the cast of friendly regulars who pass time in the store's cozy entrance.

Oraien Catledge's photographs of Cabbagetown are on view at Strawberry Fields Gallery (12655 Birmingham Highway, Alpharetta) in conjunction with the month-long, city-wide Atlanta Celebrates Photography event. But the more appropriate — unadvertised — venue for Catledge's work has got to be Little's Grill and Grocery. There his idiosyncratic photographs of Cabbagetown residents are piled in dust-coated frames, one on top of the other amidst the grocery's eclectic inventory of antiques, odds and ends and occasional canned goods.

Since 1982, the visually impaired photographer has made the unique character of Cabbagetown — once a mecca for Appalachian poor attracted to work in the now defunct Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill — his focus. While Atlanta grew up around Cabbagetown, the little village remained anachronistically its own, with children roaming the streets in diapers and grubby faces watched over by adults with young bodies but gaunt faces that attest to a hardship rarely visible in the brisk, prosperous rush of city life.

Catledge, 74, lives in a Decatur ranch house where his photos are stacked like poker chips in the basement, and framed images line the hallways. The photographer says he has roughly 50,000 negatives stored away.

But it is hard for Catledge to get out and do his work now — he usually needs someone to drive him around. So he spends his time painting his photographs with bright oil paints, as if hoping to bring back to life the subjects who have moved away, dispersed by gentrification.

"All of these people are gone now. The change is radical," he says, sinking into his recliner, where his dog Catfish sits at his feet.

Steve Williams is another Atlanta photographer who's familiar with the radical changes that have taken place in the city. Williams' work is about transformation and displacement, too, though not of people but of landscape.

While living in Little Five Points in the early '80s, Williams began to take photographs of the area that would one day become Freedom Parkway. His initial intent was to document "the ridiculous idea and arrogance of the Georgia DOT to put a highway through several neighborhoods and city parks."

Williams' oddly fascinating images will be on permanent exhibition on the second floor of the Point Center Building in Little Five Points (427 Moreland Ave.). The 25 images are presented as "Before and After" diptychs. There are those taken in 1992 when kudzu, vacant lots and a general unruliness defined the Ponce de Leon/North Avenue corridor. Then there are those taken in the present day, which display an orderly array of mathematically spaced trees and concrete paths: nature on a leash. By pairing landscape photography of the past with contemporary conceptual images of refashioned urban spaces, Williams illustrates the transformation of untamed nature into a domesticated perspective guided by the vanishing point of the highway.

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Don't miss the charmingly quirky photographs on view in Three at the Radial Cafe (1530 DeKalb Ave.) through Oct. 31. Emily Karcher uses a retro color palette to create vintage va-va-voom cheesecake self-portraits. Equally saucy are Fiona Buttigieg's voyeuristic snaps of men: hairy honeys caught in gestures of shaving and fingernail grooming, or simply arrested in all their bruiser bad boy splendor. Like Karcher's winking pinups, Buttigieg's project a woman's point-of-view, conveying a kinky spin on what constitutes "sexy." Also memorable are Steve Edelstein's portraits of an ordinary (aka weird) America. In "Nuclear Garden," a hunched woman madly tends her front yard garden, oblivious to the nuclear reactors belching plumes of white smoke behind her house.

Jon Langford, the co-founder of the seminal punk band the Mekons, performs at several venues in Atlanta this month. He stages a free multimedia autobiographical piece Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. and a solo concert Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at Emory University's Performing Arts Studio. In addition, his artwork — prints based on his paintings depicting music legends like Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash — can be seen at Eyedrum Gallery through Oct. 25. For more information, call Kendall Simpson at 404-727-7804.