In the autumn of 2008, not long after accepting a faculty appointment at Emory University, I climbed down a garbage-strewn embankment beside Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta, onto an abandoned right-of-way marking the boundary between the city's Inman Park and Old Fourth Ward districts.
Some two dozen people lived in the cover of the trees and brush growing along the railroad tracks, and under the protection of the bridge itself. It was a raw and also a peaceful community, whose advantage was to be mostly ignored by the city around it. The settlement, from what I learned, had been there in one form or another for decades.
Over the next few months I returned from time to time, especially to see a man called Red, who slept on a mattress just beneath the bridge. Red was more itinerant than most of the residents, whose dwellings were semi-permanent, and more vulnerable to the elements. He was from New Orleans, and had found himself in Atlanta without a way to get back home. I will never forget the February afternoon when I helped him build a windblock against a fierce snowstorm using a scavenged tarp, after he refused to return with me to my apartment. By the spring he had moved on, and I never saw him again.
By the spring of 2010, the community was gone, and the area claimed as part of the city's vaunted BeltLine, one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in the US. Almost a decade later, the gentrification has been dramatic: the right-of-way has been deracinated, paved, and replaced with a linear park bordered by new expensive lofts and condominiums. Atlanta's homeless remain in crisis, but elsewhere––according to the punitive social logic of "development" in America, which precisely excludes the poor.
On a frigid night in December 2017, I made new photographs in the very locations where I worked in 2009, remembering the residents of the pre-gentrifiation era, especially Red, and attempting to make sense of the erasure. In another decade, the loss will doubtless be even more irretrievable. At this midway point in the area's transformation, the picture-dialogue here joins then and now in a dialectic of bitter wonder.
Jason Francisco, December 2017