Meryl Truett’s “Picturing the Beltline” debuts alongside the first Great American economic meltdown in decades. As Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. faces renewed financial uncertainty, I can’t help but marvel. Truett—a SCAD professor and veteran photographer—can turn rust into rubies; she has an eye for architectural oddities and strikingly desolate landscapes. The photos are beautiful, yet as documents of topical significance, something doesn’t quite satisfy.
This is the series’ typical aesthetic. In documenting areas slated for redevelopment, Truett brings us only the goodies: the fossils of human ingenuity are embraced in the outstretched arms of the Nature. Old Atlanta is represented by diagonal stripes of metallic brown, shadow, and reflected sun. Truett’s composition is consistently strong.
The piece called Sleaze Pipe, though, is the closest we get to, contextually and as a whole, “picturing the Beltline.” As a series that aims to address our “rapidly changing urban landscape” and “the communities who live there,” something seems missing. We don’t see the many people who live and work within the Beltline zone. Some will have to give up their property to see the much-needed light rail come to fruition. For instance, the Trust for Public Land has already acquired the former offices of Creative Loafing. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Otherwise, Truett’s series strikes us with disbelief: all these abandoned places exist in Atlanta? It becomes clear that the metro-area has an uncommon degree of sprawl—Atlanta is the City with big pockets of the Country inside.
Arch, Piedmont Park, 2008 (detail). This is the only human figure in the series, perhaps captured by accident.
Truett’s series contains the gesture of omission. What does the photographer’s vision leave out? For better or worse, “civilization” lurks literally around the corner, and Truett misses a grand opportunity to make a more involved statement.
The erasure is, though, more likely a matter of taste rather than partisanship. Eroded messages signify a culture at odds with the tenor of “modern life.” These signs point back to Truett’s earlier work: Enjoy Coca-Cola. B-B-Q. Jesus Said *This Bloods for You!*.
If you examine Truett’s previous series, it’s clear that “Picturing the Beltline” is condensed through the lens, so to speak, of a very particular aesthetic mode: Southern decay. With an eye for isolation, irony, and poignant obsolescence, the artist has built her reputation on the visual heritage of our region.
It’s a style we’ve definitely seen before, and I’m certainly not immune. But does it work here?
A few recognizable landmarks loom into view. I was surprised to find the Irwin Street water tower, the site of “Within Our Gates” by McCallum and Tarry. The water tower installation, one of ACP’s signature events this year, is also located within the Beltline. Nice crossover.
And the lovely Clermont Hotel, home of the infamous Clermont Lounge, where the adventurous (or simply bored) go for cheap beer and to see comically substandard strippers.
Oh Clermont, does the Beltline plan put you in danger?
Barbara Archer Gallery deserves extra points for presentation; the photos look great. But does this beauty come at the sacrifice of message? I’ll be curious to see how this series grows.
The artist reception for “Picturing the Beltline” is tonight, Oct. 17, 7-9PM. The show continues through Nov. 1.