A lot of my friends know that spaces in the process of disappearing excite me. I get random calls from people as they drive by a particularly wonderful abandoned mansion or mystical disaster site. In a sense, my friends are registering a report with someone who cares.
In the middle of a weekday last fall, I got a call from Eggtooth (Jeff Dalgren) who said that he could see a most amazing flooded field of cars just off the highway in Austell, Georgia. He asked if I wanted to go back and photograph it. The time that passed between Eggtooth’s initial sighting and our return visit spanned a very sunny couple of days after a bunch of rain. I imagined the blue sky and fall leaves reflecting off a watery surface interrupted by the jutting edges of old cars. I had been experimenting with my medium format camera, so the timing was perfect for an art adventure.
The next Sunday we found this strangely aesthetic place just off the highway. As we traveled on a parallel side street, I recognized the area; it is a regular route I take to go to Sweetwater (that polluted, wonderful river park just downstream from Atlanta).
When we arrived at the desired location, the water had receded significantly. The field of cars, now covered in a dry coat of Georgia mud, turned out to be a war set for paintball players.
We parked and walked into the paintball complex. A multi-racial, friendly group was hanging out at the snack bar and picnic tables, around which were several large fenced-in spaces full of paint-splattered objects. Giant stuffed X’s filled one area, wooden spindle shapes another. We went out to the farthest field where there were junk cars, fake buildings, and the remnants of an old gas station. The environment, artistically unified in color by the beige layer of dirt and the detritus of paintballs, was aesthetically interesting, especially underneath that blue sky. We set out to take a few photos when an older woman with thick, large circular glasses and a ponytail came over to check us out. I asked to take her picture, and we started talking.
She told me her name was Freda Jones and that she also loves to take pictures. She asked if we would like to come to her gallery, and we said “yes.” We followed her to a wooden shack in the middle of the complex. On the exterior of this little building, she pinned up what she deemed the best photos, protected of course by plastic sleeves (two of which she gave us, signing the back).
That day, we learned that paintball is an organized sport, played in teams. And we also discovered an outsider artist.
Ultimately we were disappointed that what we thought was a natural disaster turned out to be a planned fiction: a mundane set for paintball. But, either way, it was not altogether unrelated to art. This is a place that flourishes adjacent to more refined city culture while expressing itself unapologetically, artistically. Eggtooth and I both thought that paintball could have a lot of potential for painters; surfaces violently decorated with paint were everywhere. And the sets themselves were wonderful installations, so real and raw—so much a product of the hinterlands still chuggin’ along outside the borders of a globalizing world civilization, where hunting and warfare are not yet politically incorrect.
We all live inside set designs we term “architecture” and “interior design.” Among many things, intown Atlanta is often a fictional suburb of upscale Disneyland, and what we found here was its particularly piquant counterpoint.