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Oraien Catledge – Photographer

Visually Impaired Cabbagetown Photographer

If you're visually impaired but creative, how would you choose to express yourself? Maybe music, maybe sculpture – but photography? This is the story of a remarkable man, Oraien Catledge, who devoted more than twenty years to documenting the people of Cabbagetown, a dying Atlanta mill town.

Born in Mississippi in the late 1920s and living in Atlanta for the past 37 years, Oraien Catledge has established himself as the "picture man" of Cabbagetown. The former Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill [now affluent lofts] closed its doors in the early 1970s, but the Appalachian people who had worked in the mill remained. In May 1980, Catledge, inspired by a television news story, set off to explore Cabbagetown with his Leica and a station wagon full of film. Over the next 20 years, Catledge took over 25,000 images of Cabbagetown's people, sharing his photos with them and becoming a regular part of their lives.

Although he never sought publicity for his work, the quality of his photographs inevitably drew experts and collectors to his door. His images have been likened to the work of Depression-era documentary photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. In 1985, the University of Texas Press published Cabbagetown, a selection of Catledge's photographs, and more recently, his work has been exhibited in Atlanta and New York. Some of his photos can also be found in the collection of High Museum of Art.

Today Catledge can hardly recognize Cabbagetown, which is now a trendy in-town neighborhood, but he still has thousands of unprinted negatives to develop and the community's history comes back to life with each one he prints.

You can view more of Catledge's photos here.