I cannot stop seeing this one photo. It pulls at something deep.
Walking down the Atlanta BeltLine's Eastside Trail, you may have passed the long photo banner on a fence in Inman Park (heading south, just before you get to Ladybird). It is one of many official exhibits (along with street art) that earns the BeltLine's reputation as the South's largest outdoor art gallery.
It's called the Photoville FENCE and is created in partnership with Atlanta Celebrates Photography. Each year, since at least 2014, a new banner has hung on this fence as part of the official Art on the Atlanta BeltLine. There is another banner on the Westside Trail, showcasing Georgia photographers.
This particular series, "Flex," by Kennedi Carter, calls to me every time I pass the FENCE. It draws on the slang word flex, which means to boast or to put on a fake front. The photographer reimagines history, like the Broadway musical "Hamilton," by placing African Americans in historically white roles. It is sobering, it is magnetic. It is powerful.
It also won the Juror's Choice Award for the FENCE project.
In another exhibit, "Odilo Lawiny - Hand made soccer balls," we see boys from rural Uganda with soccer balls made of trash, called odilo lawiny in the Acholi language. According to photographer Brian Hodges, "These precious jewels are a symbol of Africa’s passion for football. Each is a unique work of art. They speak of the ingenuity and craftsmanship of a continent. They speak of people who manage to do so much with so little."
With more than 85 photographers featured this year, there is much to see. There are some surprising portraits of animals (sheep, goats, pig, swans, turkey, fireflies, tigers, etc.). There is a food category, with closeups of vegetables from the Mediterranean diet. One exhibit focuses on fine china as a way to process grief for the loss of older family members. There are remnants of segregation, black bikers, and Mexican culture.
In "Ghosts of Segregation" by Richard Frishman, below, this Mississippi drive-in still has the "colored" window, far right, from long ago to remind us of our past so we don't repeat it.
And then there's COVID. In the exhibit "Looking Out from Within, 2020," by photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten, people in self-isolation in their homes in London look out the window at twilight. It aches of the loneliness many of us feel in quarantine.
These photographers come from all over the U.S., from across the globe. Their work has been collectively showcased in prestigious publications, exhibits, museums and books. Some have won awards and been nominated for a Pulitzer. If you take a minute to look at their photographs, you may find something in common with the people portrayed. You may be stirred by the wordless messages.
Perhaps one thing we have learned from the past year is that our humanity unites us. Kindness is universal. Suffering is universal.
And so is hope.