Rising up From The Bottoms

39 images Created 4 Sep 2012

There is rawness to life in Franklinton, infamously known as the Bottoms. Streets are littered with abandoned houses marked by signs warning off trespassers, yet advertising their vacancy for a transient population who use this neglected space to get high or make money for their next fix. Yards are overgrown, and windows are shattered from years of neglect. Sex workers and homeless wander the streets while traveling to soup kitchens and churches that offer food and free salvation.

The eastern half of the neighborhood is scattered with public housing projects and dilapidated warehouses, although a few warehouses are being filled by artist studios or new bars in an effort propelled by private-public partnerships to revitalize the neighborhood. The western half of the Bottoms is generally populated by those with strong ties to Appalachia, but in recent years a steady influx of mixed demographic newcomers have relocated here. Home ownership is no longer the trend, and while the neighborhood was well maintained through the 70s by working class homeowners, many houses have succumbed to a preponderance of absentee landowners and local slumlords.

The residents of the Bottoms have a loyalty to the place, finding their identity in these streets, and with it a tenacity to survive. Men and women have long known how to work in an underground system to earn money using skill sets that won’t always merit them a job in mainstream society, but that allow them to get by living within an informal economy unique to Franklinton.

Despite the struggles that exist here, a reformative energy is driven by groups of newcomers and residents whose families have lived in the neighborhood for generations. They are working as grassroots initiatives to make positive social change within Franklinton by combat problems plaguing the area, and by promoting the positive aspects of the neighborhood’s distinct identity.

It’s these characteristics, and the rich history of Franklinton that first enticed me to photograph the uneasy mix of people who coexist here. I am interested in how the history of the place affects the families who have long called Franklinton home, as well as how the influx of investment money to revitalize Franklinton will change the way all demographics living here engage with their neighborhood.

The interactions I have shared with individuals involved in this photo documentary have deepened over the past year, pulling me further into the reality of their lives and giving me a first-hand view of what life is like for a girl selling herself on the streets, a homeless man fighting to keep his campsite, or a concerned mother trying to raise her child in an environment as stigmatized as the Bottoms. Little is known or understood of the struggles faced by so many in this neighborhood, but through the lens of my camera I intend to permanently document the diversity of the human condition expressed in this struggling, yet revitalizing place known as Franklinton.
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