Taking "A Walk Through Peachtree-Pine"
Photography exhibition focuses on spaces and residents of Downtown shelter
The shelter located at Peachtree and Pine streets is no stranger to the media. Creative Loafing has reported on everything from eviction proceedings to water bill crises during the homeless shelter's complicated relationship with the city. What many Atlanta residents may not be aware of among all the politics, however, is its penchant for the arts.
Toward the end of 2014 Peachtree-Pine's gallery — that's right, gallery — opened an exhibition of photography by Brad Carrington. A Walk Through Atlanta Peachtree-Pine features photographs of the physical space of the shelter, such as rows of bunk beds and expansive windows, but also portraits of residents. Shot on film with Carrington's 35-millimeter camera, the black and white portraits were done on a purely volunteer basis. Residents were given copies of their portraits at the end of the project.
"You never know how this sort of thing is going to turn out," Carrington says. "I saw a mix of behavior. Some residents smiled, some didn't, but all of them photographed so well."
Carrington, whose full-time job is in real estate, adds that he did not start taking photos with an exhibition in mind; in fact, he initially contacted the shelter because he lived in the area and wanted to know if the stories about eviction were true. "I had no intention of this sort of thing. That was all Anita Beaty," says Carrington of being coaxed by the executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless — the agency that runs the shelter. "She invited me to put some photographs up."
The exhibition in the gallery space owned by Peachtree-Pine is a partnership pairing similar photographs taken by students at the Savannah College of Art and Design under the tutelage of Sandra-Lee Phipps. Phipps, a professor of photography at SCAD is known for her work with the band R.E.M. and the art for their album Murmur. As for her students' coverage of the shelter, the subjects range from hands playing piano to head shots — but all maintain an unwavering focus on the actual residents of the shelter.
"What Brad sees, particularly in the portraits, is just wonderful because we get so much criticism from people who haven't even seen the place, and all we want is for people to see it," Beaty says. "The gallery is the lens through which people can stand to see what homelessness is like. It sort of translates it into images that people can see before they actually touch it. It is important to me that the image is real and authentic."
Beaty says she's been fighting at the front lines both politically and creatively. The Peachtree-Pine gallery is not new, though; it's wavered in its purpose and realities. The space consistently changed, going through a handful of transformations of use before its current identity was pinpointed.
"We'd had artists occupying spaces in the back for many years," Beaty says. "Artists would come and go, and then it would change, and it would be another group, and they would come and go. Finally about two years ago we decided to ratchet it sort of down and, in the process, redo the space and re-intend what we want to do with the space. The goal was to integrate our resident artist program with outside artists, who were already there because they don't have a place to paint."
An artist herself, Beaty admits that her personal enjoyment of the project may have contributed to its actualization. "One day I found a homeless man who was an artist as well, and we pushed our easels up together at the front of the space, and people started watching us paint and draw," she says. "I thought, this is the organic part. Just open the door for people."
Beaty says artists always seek them out, not the other way around. Take Tom Player, for example. Next to work in the space professionally, Player will soon begin to work on a commissioned sculpture of St. Martin and the beggar. According to Beaty, Player hopes to find models from the residents to help his work.
The shelter, which also provides services such as case managers, identification replacement, transportation assistance, GED support, and recovery meetings, acts as an inclusive community for residents.
With the help of a former city housing commissioner and longtime volunteer, Carl Hartrampf, Peachtree-Pine has even created a colorfully designed urban garden on the roof of the building. Beaty hopes that people are aware that it is much more than a bed to sleep on.
"You need to be physically healthy, but also be spiritually and psychologically healthy," Beaty says. "The soul and the spirit need creative expression."