Oraien Catledge might not have been able to see that well—a childhood illness left him with impaired vision—but he knew where to look. In 1980, after watching a TV news report about how gentrification was encroaching on a mill village named Cabbagetown, the Decatur resident and social worker paid the community a visit with a Leica camera. The Mississippi native kept coming back for nearly two decades, snapping black-and-white images of the predominantly white Appalachia families who had stayed after the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill shuttered. His poor vision, professional background, and life experience beckoned him to get close: to children on the stoops of shotgun shacks, teens cooling off with a fire hydrant, an elderly woman embracing her dog. Catledge died in January 2015 at the age of 86, but his work lives on in two books and in the permanent collections of the High Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Today one of the bungalows you might spot in Catledge’s portraits could fetch more than $400,000.
This article originally appeared in our June 2017 issue.