Legally blind, Mississippi-born Oraein Catledge stood very close to his subjects in order to see them. Now in his 80s, he spent 20 years in the 1980s and ’90s photographing Cabbagetown, a textile-mill neighborhood near downtown Atlanta, eventually amassing 50,000 black-and-white negatives. Eighty-five Catledge prints in black and white and sepia will form an exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, opening October 2. The exhibition will be the first time many Mississippians will see Catledge’s work.
Cabbagetown grew up in the post-Reconstruction era around the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, established in 1881 to make bags for cotton. The owner drew poor whites from North Georgia’s Appalachia, and Cabbagetown remained a white enclave in a segregated city. Three years after the mill closed in 1977, Catledge began to capture the community’s slow unraveling and gentrification. Today, only a few mill-era residents still live there.
A self-taught photographer who took up the camera later in life, Catledge took photographs with “a certain roughness to them,” says the museum’s Dan Piersol. “Lack of prowess gives him a lot more gut and immediacy.” Their intimacy is attribute to Catledge’s compassion for his subjects, and his work is favorably compared with that of Walker Evans.
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