One-hundred-fifty-nine is the magic number when documenting Georgia, and with this entry (and those that will follow) from Whitfield County, I’m proud to add the 159th and final county to Vanishing Georgia! My ongoing coverage of Georgia has evolved over the years, and I’ve ventured more into cities because the rural gems I found in the early days are vanishing so quickly that I can’t keep up with them all. Much of what I’ve documented is gone, and much of it is doing fine. The overall theme remains, though, in that I strive to document places that represent a time and style that are lost today. Thanks for coming along for the ride and being such an important part of my journey. While I’m not as engaged in social media as I once was and I’m doing more commercial work these days, I am always grateful for all that you share with me.
*-The structure pictured above is presently owned by Windstream/Kinetic, but considering it likely dates to the 1960s or 1970s, was built by an earlier telephone company. Its placement in the historic residential area of South Thornton Avenue must have been quite controversial at the time.
The architecture, known as Brutalism, is widely disliked but does have admirers. It’s known as Brutalism not for its stark aesthetic but rather from the French term Béton brut, which translates to raw concrete.
After 13+ years of managing multiple websites, I have begun the process of merging them into one site. This process should be complete within the next few weeks.
Vanishing South Georgia, Vanishing North Georgia, and Vanishing Coastal Georgia will soon become Vanishing Georgia, to consolidate searches and to make all of my archive available in one space. The new site will feature nearly 7,600 locations with approximately 25,000 individual images. The site’s appearance and functionality should remain relatively consistent with a few new additions.
There may be some small glitches during the process, but I’m doing everything I can to make it a clean transition.
I’m hopeful that this will work better for everyone. Thank you for your ongoing support!
This is an update of a post originally published on 18 July 2017. Vandalism of Confederate monuments first got a lot of notice at that time and I predicted it would continue and perhaps become more widespread. It is happening on a much greater scale today and will likely continue. While I have never advocated nor endorsed vandalism, my original piece was an equivocation of why we should leave the fate of these monuments up to the communities where they exist. I no longer make that equivocation. I felt that the monuments were “safe” because they were a part of history. But as I stated 3 years ago, their fate will continue to be tied to their ongoing connection to White Supremacist, Neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, Ku Klux Klan and related fringe movements. The most prominent groups dedicated to Southern History have failed miserably in distancing themselves from these ignorant buffoons and in that failure they are just as responsible for the destruction of the monuments as any of the current protesters and vandals. As the descendant of poor white farmers who fought for the Confederacy, I have no interest in continuing to elevate wealthy slave-owning officers to the god-like status given them by so-called Southern Partisans. They have never represented my background or life experience, nor the background or life experience of the vast majority of Southerners. Most of the men who died for the Southern cause never owned slaves, but were pawns in an effort to preserve the wealth of men who did. As you’ll read below, even Robert E. Lee took offense to such memorializing.
As a white Southerner, I’ve known racists my entire life, but I’ve known many interested in Southern history who aren’t racists. Unfortunately, the longstanding conflation of “white” history movements with Confederate history has brought us to the present moment. I hear from people all the time that they’re sick of being labeled racists for being Southern, or for defending a Confederate monument; the way I see it, to get around that you need to call these racists out, loudly, and without equivocation. And parading around a few black members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a workaround to prove that you’re not what the rest of the world sees isn’t addressing the problem. When the world sees people surrounding a Confederate monument singing Russia is our friend or angrily waving the flags of the Third Reich, so-called Southern Heritage becomes a joke. It’s not just that the media portrays it that way. It’s observable in real time. It’s not caving to political correctness. The continued conflation of these racist fetishes with Confederate history dooms it all.
One might be surprised by the words of Robert E. Lee regarding these monuments, but I tend to agree that removing physical totems does not erase history: As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt … would have the effect of … continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour. (Letter to Thomas L. Rosser, 13 December 1866, via Lee Family Digital Archive). I’m not surprised that the descendants of the most prominent Confederate families have come out against the monuments in recent days, largely, I’m sure, as a result of long-term frustration with the racists who have co-opted them for more nefarious purposes.
I’ve worked at a state historic site devoted to the end of the Confederacy. I serve on the board of a museum based on a Southern town founded by Union veterans. I’ve spent 10 years photographing and documenting White history alongside African-American history. I haven’t done this out of a need to be politically correct yet I have received angry messages from white and black Georgians on a variety of perceived slights, almost always related to racial issues. History is history but if Confederate history is your thing (it’s not mine), keep embracing the radical racism and it will disappear altogether.
It’s been a long time in the works but Vanishing North Georgia is finally a reality. I hope it grows into something as helpful and entertaining as Vanishing South Georgia and look forward to exploring more of Georgia with all of you.
Today marks the five-year anniversary of Vanishing South Georgia!
What began as a personal project has grown into something much greater than I would have ever imagined. In traveling thousands of miles through 82 counties and hundreds of towns of varying sizes, I believe I have been privileged to see a Georgia that few people get to experience in such depth. As I branched out from Ben Hill & Irwin Counties, I did search after search for little places with interesting names I’d found on the map. I knew most would be hard to track down, but one after another seemed lost and forgotten. Part of my mission, and one that remains central to this work, was to create a permanent record of these places for researchers and people nostalgic for a glimpse of their roots. As a historian, I was very aware of the need to document them, but what made my work take wings, so to speak, was the early support and feedback from the people I began connecting with as a result of my photographs.
And I’m not the only one out here, doing work like this. When I began posting my images to the internet I found a small but determined community of people doing the same thing as me, albeit it on a different scale and usually with far more credentials as artists. Too countless to name are all the other Georgians, whether serious or just taking snapshots for the benefit of their own memories, who record history with their cameras. As Mark McDonald of the Georgia Trust for Historic recently said in an interview with GPB regarding the scope of the work, “…in historic preservation, if you can’t save a historic building, the last step is to document it.” Tobacco barns, country stores, and farmhouses truly are vanishing every day and with them the way of life they represented and the stories of the lives built around them. Just this week I’ve heard from several subscribers of the demolition of places I’ve photographed. And I know these are important because people are always so sad to report this kind of news. I’m glad they do, though. As long as the need exists and I’m able, I’ll be out in the country with my camera.
My work on Vanishing South Georgia saved me, in a way. It came at a time when my own life was in flux and when I seemed to be looking for something as yet unknown. It’s renewed my love for place and for the people whose lives define all the places I visit and photograph. I hope that it brings a little happiness to everyone who sees it. That, as much as the documentary aspect, is worth it.
You can hear Jeanne Bonner’s interview with me about Vanishing South Georgia here. I was very honored to be featured.
From the GPB website (visit their site for the whole story):
“I use my camera as a preservation tool,” [Brown] said, holding his camera.
And that’s an invaluable service, says Mark McDonald of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit that saves old buildings. Some historic structures, he says, will simply be lost.
“He’s documenting buildings that literally may not be here next week,” he said in an interview at his office in Atlanta. “So in historic preservation, if you can’t save a historic building, the last step is to document it.”
Vanishing South Georgia got some wonderful attention today on theblog of Garden & Gun, the leading magazine about the South. Chantel O’Neal did a nice write-up, which is re-posted below. I was very honored by this feature!
Focusing on the Forgotten
by Chantel O’Neal
Brian Brown gets lost a lot—on purpose. The self-taught photographer behind the Vanishing South Georgia and Vanishing Coastal Georgia projects has been archiving the state’s past since 2005. That was the year he moved back to his hometown of Fitzgerald and noticed all of the places that had disappeared, including the tobacco barn on his family’s farm…
I’m so glad that so many people have chosen to subscribe to Vanishing South Georgia but several of you have dropped subscriptions or complained that you don’t like receiving so many posts at one time. I agree, it’s a bit too much when I post 30-40 images at a time. Nita Parry, a regular subscriber, asked me today if there was a way to manage or receive fewer emails. Here is how you do it (granted, WordPress should make it easier, but for now this is the way they do business): When you subscribe, the confirmation email you receive will have a message at the bottom that reads: Want less email? Modify your Subscription Options. Click on Subscription Options. And follow the directions from there. An easier way to do it is to simply scroll down the page after you’ve confirmed your subscription, click on the Delivery Frequency tab in the dropdown menu beside the blog name and you can check Immediately or Weekly. By checking weekly you’ll only get ONE email per week. I know this seems complicated, and WordPress really needs to improve it, but until then, this is the way to do it. If you encounter any problems during this process, contact me and I’ll try to help you through it.
Near White Plains, Georgia. Jack Delano, ca. 1941. Library of Congress.
Before I had an interest in photography I knew Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother. Elementary school textbooks, at least of my era, often used the copyright-free image to symbolize the hardships of the Great Depression. My great-grandmother regularly referred to “Hoover Days”. I consider my interest in vernacular architecture, which makes up the bulk of my public work, to be a direct result of my exposure to the FSA photographers. In addition to Lange, there were Walker Evans, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, Carl Mydans, Russell Lee, Arthur Rohtstein, John Vachon, and Jack Delano.It’s amazing how many people know these photographs, whether they know their histories or not. They’re indelibly linked to the history of America in the 20th century.
I’d appreciate if any of my regular visitors to Vanishing South Georgia who’ve previously shared memories of the Great Depression would also share them on the new site. This site will also utilize historic family photos from time to time. Georgia in the Great Depression will only be updated irregularly (5-10 posts/month), but I’ll always welcome memories and stories from the era.
Thanks to you, Vanishing South Georgia has reached a milestone.
As of today, one million views have been recorded on the website! Traffic has grown exponentially since I first launched it back in 2008. The style of the site has also changed from time to time and it continues to evolve. When I started the project, one of the catalysts was the lack of any information, especially imagery, of South Georgia on the internet. My mission has been to share my neck of the woods with the rest of the world, and with your help I’ve succeeded. I’ve traveled to every county in South Georgia in the past four years and in the process of searching for the most forgotten and most unknown places of the region, I’ve taken over 300,000 photographs. As I’ve said many times before, it wouldn’t be possible without you and your generosity in spreading the word about my work.
(Update: As of 2016, we have now logged over 25 million views across multiple platforms!)