Over the weekend — a pair of bright sunny days in the middle of two weeks of rain — I ventured into the neighborhood to see if the colors of autumn were making any progress. There’s still an enormous amount of green everywhere; many of the huge maples and oaks that form the area’s canopy haven’t started to change yet. On Saturday, I photo-walked Oakland Cemetery — a 48-acre Victorian garden cemetery, established in Atlanta in 1850 as one of the first such garden cemeteries created in the United States — and took the photos you can see in the gallery below. The extreme sunlight provided me with some challenges, as I think I’m more accustomed to — and photographically speaking, more comfortable with — trolling around in the woods and dealing with low-light rather than high-light conditions. Still, I think I ended out with some interesting results, and tried to capture how the yellows, oranges, and reds glowed in the sun, even with excessive backlighting that needed adjustment once I got home.
On Sunday, I took a similar walk through Grant Park, and I’m working through about 100 photos from spending the morning there. Look for those later in the week. 🙂
Select the first image below to begin a slideshow; as always, thanks for reading and taking a look!
I was browsing through some old photos on my computer the other day, and came across this one that I took about a half-block from Oakland Cemetery a few years ago. The building shown in the photo has since been demolished, but I remembered taking the shot because I liked the color of the boards covering the window and the suggestion of similar colors in the siding. I never did anything with the photo, just kept it, but thought it would be fun to see what I could come up with by experimenting some more with Adobe Lightroom and with the Nik Collection that I downloaded last week. Here is the original, unedited photo:
My first step was to use the Transform panel in Lightroom to shift the photo to a perpendicular perspective, so that it appears you are now looking straight toward the window rather than at the angle shown in the original. The transformation also resulted in a segmenting the photo almost equally into three distinct elements: the siding to the left, the window in the center, and the leaves coming in from the right side and partially covering the window.
At this point, in Lightroom, I made some exposure adjustments to brighten the image overall, to deepen the contrast, and to increase color saturation on the colors in the siding and on the window. The focus on the leaves was not great, so I adjusted sharpness, clarity, and noise reduction to try and repair some of that, but it didn’t really help. Even though the siding and window boards are clear with reasonably good detail, the fact that the leaves were originally out of focus is still very apparent. But sometimes you gotta work with what you’ve got, and see where you end out when you end out there.
I used this image to become more familiar with different capabilities in the Nik Collection filters, but didn’t keep close track of each incremental adjustment. However, the key changes that got me to the result shown below were these:
Adding structure to create additional detail in the siding on the left third of the photo, which also brought out the scraggly vine running up the wall;
Using the Remove Color Cast filter to eliminate cyan color from the photo, which shifted the siding colors to blue/gray, purple, and magenta and the window boards from a washed-out light cyan/blue tone to a deeper blue;
Using the Remove Color Cast filter to remove most yellow color from the photo, which shifted the leaves on the right side into a richer and more consistent green color rather than a yellow/green blend;
Adding the Classical Soft Focus filter primarily over the leaves and slightly over the window boards to reduce the impression that the leaves were out of focus, and create a soft transition from the leaves to the window boards.
With these adjustments done, I returned to Lightroom and added saturation to purple and magenta colors for the siding and blue for the door, to emphasize three individual color panels in the final image. Here’s where I stopped, with this substantially different representation of the original photo. Click the image to see a larger version.
To see the progression as a slideshow from the original unedited image to the stylized version shown above, click on the first photo below:
The four photos I have experimented with in this post are from Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. Here I take two passes at each of the original photos, the first to make initial improvements using Adobe Lightroom, and the second to have my first experience with a set of plugins that can be used to apply creative effects to images, described below.
In Lightroom, I emphasized the angel statue by working on the background first: reducing exposure, clarity, and sharpness using graduated filters; and reducing saturation in some of the background colors. I then added a little light and a bit of sharpening to the angel faces using a radial filter. Removing spots followed that and was quite a challenge in these photos; but by zooming into sections of each image, I could eventually differentiate spots of debris from texture in the statue’s plaster, enabling me to remove those that created bumpy shadows or were a distraction to my eye. Lightroom does an awesome job with spot removal, and even though it took a while, the effort did seem to improve the photos while retaining most of the detailed texture of the statue — without damaging the structural smoothness of the angel, her wings, or her gown. As the last step, I adjusted overall sharpness then removed a final few spots that only popped out at the higher sharpness level. I applied similar effects to the single photo of the lilies; though it was the foreground that I de-emphasized since the flowers are set toward the back.
Click the first image to begin a slideshow showing the original, unprocessed images followed by the Lightroom edits described above.
I’ve been wanting to learn more about the Nik Collection 2018 plugins for Lightroom and Photoshop for a while now, ever since I read about them here: Bluebrightly Wanderings and Observations — so yesterday I watched these two YouTube videos about the software. The first one provides an introduction to the seven tools in the collection, and the second a more detailed overview and demonstration of the individual plugins:
There are an enormous number of functions in the collection, and I’ve barely scratched at the surface, but the two videos gave me an idea of the workflow for using it and enough information to get me started, so I downloaded a 30-day trial of the plugins from the DxO website, here: Download the New Nik Collection by DxO.
Given their relative simplicity, the angel statue photos seemed like good candidates for this experiment. To produce the after-results in the slideshow below, I applied several filters to one of the images, including a soft focus filter, a darkening filter, and a whitening filter. One of the powerful features of this software is that you can apply the filters to the entire image, then pick “control points” to reduce or eliminate the filter effects selectively from parts of the photo. In this case, I applied the soft focus filter to the whole image, then removed it from the angel’s face. The effect, of course, should be to draw your eye to the face as the intended focal point of the image, while further de-emphasizing the background yet still keeping it as part of the character of the photo. Once I was satisfied with one photo, I used the plugin’s “save recipe” function — which saves all the filters and settings — then applied the recipe to the other photos in this set.
Select the first image below to compare the images as edited in Lightroom with the effects I applied using the Nik Collection plugins:
The effects, of course, create a completely different kind of image, and the creative options provided by the collection seem to be pretty close to endless. I only used three or four of about 60 effects available … in only one of the seven plugins. Select the image below to see larger versions of the end result (or, the end result for now until I learn more!)
If you’ve enjoyed my writing and photography on this site and have ever thought about supporting it, please consider making a financial contribution to Oakland’s rebuilding efforts instead. The address for donations (also listed at the end of their article) is:
Historic Oakland Foundation
248 Oakland Avenue SE
Atlanta, GA 30312
Here’s that same monument now (photograph from the Foundation’s article):
If you’ve been following my series of articles on the Cemetery or have looked at any of my Flickr pictures of the property, you know I consider it a treasured historical and community resource unlike anything I had ever seen until I started learning about it. If you’re able to make even a small donation to helping the Cemetery’s reconstruction efforts, you’ll be honoring the memories of those who are buried there and you’ll also be recognizing the critical significance of Atlanta’s few remaining truly historical sites. Give Oakland a bit of help and I guarantee you that the next time you consider the meaning of some place of history or community that matters to you, you’ll look at it with a greater awareness and understanding of what these places really mean to our lives, our neighborhoods, and our place in this world.
I’ll be resuming my articles on the Cemetery and the neighborhood’s history within a few days….
Nearly every evening last week, I worked on what was to be the third article in my series on Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery, based on the Exploring Place: History class that I took in 2007. (The previous article in this series is here, and all my articles on Oakland are here.) This middle segment of the class was the most substantial, because in it I extended my Oakland research into the surrounding neighborhood streets, exploring history as it played out on Decatur Street, Boulevard, Memorial Drive, and Martin Luther King Drive. The old Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills and the Cabbagetown district were part of that research, and I had started writing about them in that article.
The article remains unfinished. Little did I know that Atlanta would get hit by one of the few tornados this region has ever seen, on the evening of Friday, March 14, and that the tornado’s path would take it through the very areas I was writing about. The map below was supposed to be part of the original article, as a way of orienting the geography of the article in the same way it helped me organize my research.
If you look to the right of Oakland Cemetery on the map above, you’ll see a section bordered by Boulevard, Decatur Street, and Memorial Drive (highway 154). This is the area in my neighborhood that sustained the most damage; this is where the Cabbagetown district is located, and the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill property is in the space where Boulevard and Decatur Street intersect, just above Carroll Street SE on this map. My home is less than a mile from this spot … and yes, an incoming tornado really does sound like a freight train. I hope I never hear that sound again.
I had the bright idea yesterday morning of heading over to Oakland Cemetery to take a few pictures of the damage to the Cotton Mill building. Hard to believe that it never occurred to me that the Cemetery itself might have sustained some damage, and I imagined just walking onto the property up to the northeast corner that I was so familiar with, and zooming in on the mill buildings.
Until I got there, that is, and saw this:
These trees had been knocked down just inside the entrance gate (at the intersection of Oakland Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, just above the “e” in “Memorial” on the map). A security guard was keeping people out … well, everyone except this dude with a camera who failed to come tell me how to sneak onto the property.
In any case, I wandered up and down Memorial Drive and Oakland Avenue, taking pictures over the brick wall that surrounds Cemetery. This shot is one of several I took of the Confederate Memorial, looking so strange with the trees that used to surround it now down on the ground.
Not far from the Memorial lies the Confederate section of the Cemetery, where several of the giant trees are either uprooted or shattered near the base of their trunks:
Some areas are just a chaos of twisted branches; it’s hard to even remember or describe how these spots, for example, looked before Friday evening:
The rest of the pictures I took of the damage to the Cemetery are in a Flickr set that I added this morning:
I didn’t venture into the Cabbagetown neighborhood (I don’t know if I would have been able to anyway), and even though I walked Decatur Street to the north of the cemetery, I decided not to take any pictures of the private businesses or private homes that sustained damage. There is plenty of coverage of that; you can take a look at the Atlanta tornado article on Wikipedia for list of local news sources.
Damage from the tornados and from a series of powerful storms that repeatedly swept across Georgia Friday and throughout the day Saturday is expected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, with many people suffering tremendous damage to or total losses of their homes and businesses. The American Red Cross has, as always, a highly visible presence providing folks with assistance throughout the state; if you want to help, consider making a donation here.
[The following is a slightly modified version of the opening section of one of the research papers I wrote on Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery for the Exploring Place: History class that I took in 2007. The previous article in this series is here, and all my articles on Oakland are here.]
On the early evening of October 31, 2007, I sat on the ground among the graves of the Confederate soldiers in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery, watching the late day sunlight change the headstone colors from white and gray to a soft, faded orange. Row after row of these headstones – many with names engraved on them, many without – stretched up the hill in front of me, and out in all directions among the trees and throughout the grass surrounding me. Off to the northwest side of the cemetery, beyond where I could see, a freight train coupled an engine to its cars and the air around me cracked as the train sections connected. The earth rumbled for several seconds – I could feel it and hear it – and then fell silent. A sharp, cold breeze struck the back of my neck as a handful of brittle magnolia leaves dropped from a tree nearby, drifting to the ground around one of the headstones without making a sound.
I had my camera with me, of course, since it seemed I couldn’t visit Oakland without taking my camera and have over a thousand pictures chronicling the time I’ve spent there. It took me a second to realize that I had started to take a picture and was holding the camera suspended in mid-air, halfway to my face when the explosive thunder from the train stopped me. I was holding my breath, and in those few seconds suddenly wondering about the meaning of this place where I sat on the ground, frozen stiff in the act of composing a photograph, staring at the Confederate gravestones.
I took a first shot, a wide shot of the field in front of me, showing countless stones glowing or submerged in long shadows, the inscriptions and the names and dates barely visible…
I zoomed in and took a second shot, and the words “Confederate States Army” started to show on many of the gravestones….
On the third shot, the names of men who died for the South in the Civil War could be clearly seen, yet there were dozens and dozens of them – too many to remember, too many for my mind to comprehend….
I took my fourth and final shot, a very close zoom, focusing on a single headstone near the trunk of the magnolia tree, where I saw just one inscription:
“T. Roberts, 23rd Alabama Infantry, Company I, Confederate States Army.”
I have no idea who T. Roberts was and will probably never know. I couldn’t even find out what the “T” stands for. He was not a prominent southern general whose importance will get his name mentioned on the Oakland Cemetery tours, or in the books written about Oakland or Atlanta or Georgia or the Civil War.
He was, however, one man, a single and irreplaceable individual, a person who once had a life that he lost during a war, whose name would not even be known to me but for the fact that he had lost it during that war. Yet for those few minutes on that Halloween evening, and for the time I spent wondering about who he might have been, or what he might have looked like, or what unbearable injuries he might have suffered before he died … we were connected across time and space, at a quickly shifting point where our lives – rather, his death and my life – intersected. And that, I realized, was the meaning and significance of this complex and amazing historical place.
In the first parts of my research into Oakland, I puzzled a little over the difference between a place like Oakland as an active element of a region’s history — that is, a place where historical events actually occurred — and as a more passive one because of its nature as a cemetery. As I continued my research, I became much less concerned with the difference between the two, having discovered that the difference didn’t matter that much. All historical places function in both ways: Oakland, in that sense, is no different than, say, the Georgia State Capitol, or a Civil War battlefield, or a historically significant factory like the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills — so the distinction I was trying to make between active and passive places became irrelevant. That Oakland’s configured as a place where people are buried and memorialized is simply a characteristic of the location itself, and isn’t nearly as important to studying its history as it might seem.
With that in mind, my research began to take a different approach to examining the cemetery and its history in more detail. Rather than attempting to localize events to the cemetery grounds themselves, I started using the cemetery as a focal point for some of the history of the surrounding area, including the neighborhoods and streets that geographically intersect with Oakland. While that seemed at first to point me toward coincidental renderings of historical circumstances and events, it soon became apparent that what it did instead was highlight Oakland’s history within the context of Atlanta’s history. It also enabled an exploration of the relationship between the cemetery and the city from several different perspectives – such as social structures, segregation, architectural symbolism, southern Victorian mores, and the political and economic histories of the area. With that as background, I began to explore Oakland as a historical focal point for the history of the community where I live, which I’ll discuss in more detail in my next article.
My Exploring Place: History class wrapped up at the end of December, and I’ve started sketching out a series of articles about my research on Oakland Cemetery. You can read my first two articles, written during the early days of the class when I had just started exploring the Cemetery, here. I have to say that when I originally decided that Oakland would be my research topic for the class, I really had no idea how I’d go about the research and writing. By the time I was about five or six weeks into it, however, it seemed like the opposite had occurred: it became a real challenge to pare things down to reasonable levels for the class, because my exploration took on a pretty complicated life of its own, leading me in all sorts of unexpected directions.
I ended out writing three research papers (in addition to a proposal) on the Cemetery, and one final paper where I explained how the theoretical ideas embodied in our course reading assignments guided me and affected my research and writing. I considered posting the papers in their entirety here, but have decided against it — opting instead to excerpt or adapt them for the more conversational tone of a weblog. I also still have a large number of photographs from two final visits there — that I haven’t reviewed yet or posted anywhere — photographs taken when my research pointed me to something specific about the Cemetery that I wanted to capture in images. In many cases, the photographs related to the stories of particular people or events, so I’ll include them here as I write about those particulars. I thought I would break ground, however, by describing some of the resources I used to complement the tours and events I attended, and my frequent photo-walking trips to the Cemetery itself.
The background for the class came from Robert Archibald’s A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community. Archibald uses a visit to his hometown to begin his thoughtful analysis of the relationships among place, history, and memory, and he explains how our thinking about these things intersects with our ideas about the kinds of cultural and social structures we build into (or fail to build into) our communities. He expands from there into discussions about the roles of public and academic historians in the community, advocating for an approach that combines social and cultural activism with the work of the historian. His ideas about historians engaging with their communities and involving themselves in decisions about such things as urban design and the use of public spaces struck me as a very unique perspective — something I, at least, had not previously encountered. Archibald has a lot to say about why we study history, and I’ll write a good bit more about his book shortly.
About ten years ago, maybe longer, I bought Franklin Garrett’s Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of its People and Events, a two-volume history of Atlanta that, I’ve heard, Garrett started by creating a necrology of everyone buried at Oakland Cemetery. I had never read these books before, but ended out using them constantly throughout the project. You can read a little more about Garrett here. Garrett’s coverage of Oakland Cemetery in the two volumes is extensive; his profiles of the people of Atlanta often conclude with a statement that they’re buried at Oakland — and Garrett, too, is buried at Oakland, under a prominent headstone near the entrance to the cemetery in a plot that he shares with his wife.
There were two books that I turned to repeatedly throughout the project, that I initially used to develop an understanding of Oakland’s physical and geographic characteristics: Historic Oakland Cemetery by Tevi Taliaferro and The Historic Oakland Cemetery of Atlanta: Speaking Stones by Cathy Kaemmerlen. Both books discuss the history of the Cemetery and some of the notable people buried there, with Kaemmerlen’s book exploring the stories of some of those people in greater detail. I had the good fortune of meeting Kaemmerlen at Oakland’s Sunday in the Park Victorian Festival in October, where she engaged audiences with storytelling then signed copies of her book afterward. You can read more about Kaemmerlen at her Tattling Tales website, here.
It was from Kaemmerlen’s book that I learned that Oakland was among numerous American cemeteries that could be classified as Victorian Garden Cemeteries, created during the American Victorian era and embodying that period’s unique architectural, symbolic, and metaphorical characteristics, as well as Victorian ideas about the relationship between life and death. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts (founded in 1831) was the first such cemetery. You can read more about the history of Mount Auburn here, and see some photos (where the similarities to Oakland are very apparent) here.
I used Thomas J. Schlereth’s Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915 to help me get a better grasp on how Victorian beliefs were reflected in cemeteries like Oakland. Schlereth’s book is one of the best I’ve read about Victorian America, covering everything from the details of ordinary daily life through Victorian anxieties about modern culture through, of course, how the Victorians embraced a unique and new approach to memorializing those who passed away through elaborate funeral processions and cemetery architecture.
My exposure to some of the stories of Oakland started with Kaemmerlen then continued with the masterful book about the Leo Frank case by Steve Oney, And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank. From Oney’s book, I excerpted his evocative description of the surreptitious Oakland burial of the ashes of Frank’s wife Lucy by her nephews in 1946, six years after she died and six months after one of her nephews had been given ashes — the long time period between her death and the secret burial of her ashes stemming from the controversy over the case and the strong current of anti-Jewish sentiment that existed in Atlanta in the 1940s. Lucy’s ashes were buried between the headstones of her parents (Emil and Josephine) with no marker — though, as Kaemmerlen notes, someone has placed a small porcelain angel marking the location of the ashes.
That small angel, between the tall gray headstones, is one of the Oakland images that will stick with me forever.
You can read more about Mary Phagan’s murder — it occurred on Confederate Memorial Day (which used to be celebrated on April 26) in 1913 — and some details about the Frank case here. I’ll come back to it in a later article also; I’m still reading Oney’s book and hope to finish it before I attend an exhibition about the case at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in February.
The final topic that I began to examine in the first research paper had to do with memory and memorializing — specifically, southern memorializing of the Confederacy in the post-Civil War period. To ground me in some of the theory about southern identity and southern memory, I read The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory by W. Fitzhugh Brundage. Brundage does an excellent job describing southern identity in its cultural and social contexts, and his explanation of the role of women in trying to rebuild southern identity through memorials at places like Oakland was especially useful.
Hmmmmmm… I had intended to describe nearly all the resources I used in this single article, but it seems to be getting waaaaaayy too long. Since the second and third papers — where I looked at the history of Oakland’s neighborhood and how the Cemetery reflected race and class issues — brought me into contact with a very large number of books, articles, and web sites … I think I’ll clip this post here and pick up where I left off later in the week.