Wonder South

Surplus & Sight

Dispatch 05: Kate Gazaway & Picture Change

Words and Photographs KATE GAZAWAY


"Seek out the past while it's still surrounding you. You may find yourself."

~KATE GAZAWAY, founder, Picture Change


Photo by Mathilde Peaud

Photo by Mathilde Peaud

Born and raised in Atlanta, Kate Gazaway is a photographer and the founder of the nonprofit Picture Change. Through the organization, she and her collaborators teach photography and digital storytelling skills to individuals in under-resourced communities around the world. Though frequently on the road, she has a deep connection to her Southern roots and currently calls Nashville home. Here are the images and heartfelt stories she shared with us @WonderSouth as our first Insta Takeover of 2017.

Ellenwood, Georgia, 1992

Ellenwood, Georgia, 1992

Hey y'all. @ladykategazaway here, taking over for a little while!

Someone once asked me if I “identify as Southern,” and I could only think, “What else could I be?”

My family has a history of deep-and-growing-deeper roots in the South and a history of storytelling which probably started in Ireland and, for me, has been passed on from my 94-year-old Grandma Grace.

So now the question is in what era to start the ‘beginning.’ My early memories are tinged with gold and smell like sawdust from my Dad’s workshop or when his country band got together to play in “Uncle” Wayne’s barn.

We were wild, my brother’s and I, running free through those Georgia woods with a machete from Dad and a promise to Mom to be home before sunset. 

I drove back through the streets of my childhood a few months ago only to find my memories covered by subdivisions and Subarus. 

So now, in my 30s and living in the booming metropolis of Nashville, Tennessee, I feel the obsessive need to remember and record it all because the South of my childhood is faded and the South of my present is changing every day.

I guess this is as good a place to start as any, though we’re going to have to look backward a bit before we can move forward. So it goes. 

This is what 1992 looked like from the back of Pawpaw’s Chevy in Ellenwood, Georgia.

We were over at my Grandma Gracie Kate's house in Atlanta one year for Mother's Day. I was probably around 14 years old. While the family was out back gorging themselves on a bucket of fried chicken, I figured it was my chance to explore the only room in grandma's house that I had never seen: her bedroom.

It was a museum in there; our family history in photos all over the walls, flags of all the places she had seen, cracked figurines, and antique pieces of art. 

What mystified me was the dark cedar trunk in the corner of her room. I removed the stacks of books and clothes from it and slowly creaked open the lid. It was full to the brim of diaries and photo albums: a life's work of ink, paper, and gelatin emulsion. 

I picked up a yellowed diary from the top of the stack and opened, at random, to a page near the middle. .

"April 4, 1986: Well, I'm a grandmother again today. My granddaughter Kate was born around noon and she was named after me..."

I dropped the book and my eyes flooded hot with tears. Of all the days in all those pages buried in all that dust, I opened to the very day that I was born. I was loved then and I was loved now by this woman I barely knew.  We share a name and a deep need for documentation and remembrance, making the mundane into something sacred and miracles into everyday occurrences. .

When I interviewed my grandmother a few months ago, I learned that she and my grandfather married in 1939, so young at 17 years old. He sold ice in the summer and coal in the winter to save enough money to buy this cedar trunk. It held her wedding gifts and, at the time, was their most valuable possession. This box that contained the beginnings of their lives together now held the expanse of their lives - over 75 years worth. And now its all coming to an end and my grandma just wants to stay home and be remembered.

We are bound to each other, not only by birth and blood, but by time and memory, love and loss, the times where we had nothing but each other and the times we sat together at a crowded dinner table over fried chicken. 

Seek out the past while it's still surrounding you. You may find yourself.

I travel frequently with my non-profit @PictureChange and, for many years, I was content with a tumbleweed lifestyle. It wasn’t until I visited Nashville in 2013 (and subsequently moved here two weeks later) that I experienced the nourishing community to reign in the voracious escapism I’d held to throughout my 20s. 

I hope and pray everyone finds that rare group of people who allow you to need and be needed. 

Because Nashville is a transient town, brimming with artists, musicians, humanitarians, small-businesses, etc, we know what it’s like to treasure the time we have together because we’ve grown accustomed to being apart. 

One of the greatest moves of my artistic career (and for my own dam* lonely heart) was to surround myself with like-minded, passionate individuals who are pursuing their own dreams, but will drop everything to get a drink with you at the end of a hard day. 

I’m still a bit of a tumbleweed for a few months of the year, but having a community like Nashville to come home to has been an incredible gift. 

Eldey's Bar-B-Que, Nashville

Eldey's Bar-B-Que, Nashville

Granola for breakfast, salad for lunch, and some Southern fried sustenance for dinner. . . 

It’s a 6-hour drive from Nashville to my parents house in Georgia. It’s funny how some places become routine mile markers in your journey, reminding you that your journey’s end is only a few more hours away. Just head towards the lights or the larger-than-life discount fireworks sign to guide you home.

Eatonton, Georgia

Eatonton, Georgia

Sunrise brimming over those Georgia pines at Mom and Dad's house. Christmas morning, 2016. 

This was my 30th Christmas and I don't think I've ever been able to sleep past sunrise.

I'm grateful for the quiet little lake town my parents retired to. Beyond giving me an excuse to go visit, it's been a place of healing, reflection, and inspiration. I think an equally important part of the creative process is the times of stillness and rest between kinetically creating. If there's one thing I learned in 2016, is that busyness does not equal progress. 

It's one of those rare and magical snow days in Nashville where the city shuts down, schools are out, and the grocery stores are ravaged of their milk, bread, and frozen pizza. Some of us stumble into work, some of us hunker down at each other's houses, or a few of us venture out to a coffee shop to get some work done. But not before going out to play first, of course. 

In an effort to ward off the cold & welcome 2017, we held our annual Christmas tree burning in my backyard. We did something a little different by way of tossing lavender, tobacco, and slips of paper on which we wrote aspects of 2016 we wanted to let go of this year into the crackling flames.

Perhaps it was corny and overly symbolic, but it was healing nonetheless, binding our tight little community even closer. 

And then theres also Ranger @reubenbidez doing a dab-photobomb in front of @whereissionnie and @otisjamesnashville . . .

It was one of those dreary December days which make back roads seem enchanted and invites you to settle into the driver’s seat and get lost. 

I was driving back to Nashville from my parents’ place in Georgia and I decided it was a “back roads only” kind of journey. I was traveling alone and had no where to be at any certain hour. This is freedom. 

I spend a lot of time with my 94-year-old grandmother and have heard her version of the South since before I can remember. In this back roads journey, I saw her South come to life down those twisted and fog-shrouded streets. Barns, homes, and machinery in various states of disrepair, bearing witness to the South which once was and silently questioning what we will become in the next few decades. 

By the time my four hour drive had turned into seven, I decided to get back to the interstate and head on home. The silence resting on the land had a sort of taught, anxious feel to it as I snaked down crumbling roads. Or maybe that was just the kinetic troubles of my own mind.  I don’t have an answer to the question posed by the fallow fields and dilapidated homesteads, the living history climbing the walls and consuming rusted out tractors. I suppose we’ll do what we’ve always done: we press on, we rebuild, we create and re-create the future from the rubble, holding fast to our history and shaping the path before us. What a privilege. 

The more we learn about our history, the more we can shape what’s ahead. My name is Kate Gazaway and it’s an honor to be here. Thanks for following along this past week. 

Jeffrey Roedel