Twenty-two years ago, we moved back to Atlanta and built our home on the northern edge of the metro Atlanta area. Nearby was a grocery store, a few smaller stores, and a gas station, but otherwise, the surrounding area consisted of a horse farm, many smaller farms, plus open meadows and fields.
Being at the junction of the city and the country didn’t last very long. Within the year our area was recognized as the fastest growing county in the US. Along with that growth came extensive residential development including strip shopping centers, fast food, and all variety of services to serve the growing population and northward expansion.
I watched all the changes through a photographer’s eye.
Just north of where we lived was one of the only places early on with buildings – a church and a small farmhouse. I was drawn to the farmhouse for a number of reasons. The first was the two massive magnolia trees that framed the front of the house. Given their size, they were easily over a hundred years old. The house itself was white and sat at the front of a large tract of land. The property consisted of small outbuildings, a barn, and a good-sized vegetable garden.
Over the years I noticed certain things about the house. There was always an older couple working outside. The barn and buildings were painted and in good repair. During the summer there was always a large vegetable garden. Throughout the spring and summer, there were always beautiful flowers in the ground and hanging from the front porch.
But over time, one spring I observed that there were no flowers. I also didn’t see the couple anymore. My guess was that the woman living there had passed away.
The next year in addition to no flowers, the yard started looking a bit overgrown. I couldn’t help but speculate that the husband was either in ill health himself or possibly didn’t care anymore. Later on, a wheelchair ramp leading up to the front porch confirmed my suspicions.
The house continued to decline into disrepair, and finally, it was obvious that no one was living there anymore. About that same time, the land surrounding the house was sold, rezoned and developed. A fire station went in next door, a subdivision emerged behind the house, and recently the land with the barn looks like it’s about to be turned into another strip shopping center.
Every time I’ve driven by the house over these many years, I’ve tried to think of some way to make a photograph, never really finding anything that conveyed what I felt about the scene and what it had been.
This year, however, I drove by on December 26th to find that the farm was in the process of being torn down and leveled. One of the beautiful magnolias was in pieces next to its huge stump that was sticking out of the ground. The land to the left and behind had been cleared as well, and the other magnolia was intact near the machinery, waiting for the job to be finished after the holidays.
I look at many of my photographs through the lens of the statement:
What question does this photograph answer?
In reviewing these particular photographs I’m left with more questions than answers. Who was the family? How many generations lived there? What happened to the couple who had lived there? Finally, given it is Christmas, how many good times were sandwiched between those two trees over the last century?
In a few days, any remnants of the place and the family will be gone. Like most of the area where we live, it will be replaced by the continual expansion of “civilization”. And like many similar places, thousands of people will visit without ever thinking about who and what was there before them.