Stepping out of my sister’s car onto the not-so-green grass of Central City Park, I took a moment to breathe deep. Adjust to what was distantly familiar to me–rustling trees. Birds. Pure oxygen. This Christmas afternoon was bright, and the weather was kind. We had driven an hour and a half from Atlanta to come visit my dad. Drop off some Guyanese Christmas treats which I knew he rarely if ever got to eat there. The drive down had been an exercise in nostalgia. One I hadn’t experienced for at least five years. But halfway to our arrival, I began to sense something strange about the daydream. Something about these surroundings was a poor match to my memory.
I had been basing my expectations on rumors, and the last I heard of Macon (which, admittedly, was years ago), it was beginning to boom. Old trees were coming down, and new buildings going up everywhere. I figured it must have been up-and-coming. A candidate for the next, big, Americana-tinted hipster-hub. I was wrong. Zipping down Zebulon Road, past the now shuttered and abandoned shopping mall I had frequented with my friends in high school, I realized what had happened.
Somewhere between 2010 and 2019, the town had suffered. Maybe it was partially the recession. Maybe state and federal policies that did not favour small, mostly working class Southern communities like this one. Likely, it had to do with both of these things combined, plus some that I am now too distanced from the place to see.
“Fantastic camera,” my dad said to me where we three stood in Central City’s parking lot.
“It’s an X-T2,” I said feeling my mouth pull into a smirk. I watch far too much youtube, and have taken on the inferiority-complex of a Fuji color-science lover who existed in a world of Sony fanatics.
“Hop into my car. There are some wonderful, things to see down the road,” he said.
I snapped many of these shots leaning halfway out of the open front passenger window of his old Mercedes jeep. If I spotted a location too fantastic to shoot as a drive-by—the old railway mill for example—we stopped to take a closer look.
The theme remained the same. Rust, quiet, and shutters. Unfinished projects. Dreams set aside for a better day. Yet, zooming in on all of this deterioration, seeing it up close and with fresh purpose, I found a new appreciation for it all. One I could not find when I was far too young and far too bored to take notice.
“You’ve got to tell me what your friends say when they see these,” my dad chuckled. “They’ll say, ‘What planet did she go to?'”
There was a sad beauty there indeed, and it permeated everything. Even my human subjects. Because of that, what began as a lazy exercise for my photography skill has turned into a testament to the small town that helped raise me.