(Editor’s note: ArtsATL has presented many stories in recent years in Atlanta’s artists’ own words. This new series, “My Atlanta,” turns the spotlight on photographers, who will use their images and supporting text to illustrate how living in Atlanta has inspired their careers and lives. Today we start with documentary photographer Billy Howard. He is one of the city’s most prominent photographers, and his work is part of the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the High Museum of Art, The Carter Presidential Center, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, The University of Georgia College of Environment+Design, and MOCA GA. Negatives, prints, letters and ephemera from two of Howard’s documentary projects are archived in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University.)
This summer marks 45 years since I moved to Atlanta, a somewhat stunning anniversary. My college roommate rented a townhouse and invited me to seek my fortune in the big city. I had no idea what I wanted to do but knew that it didn’t include living in my parents’ house in Raleigh, North Carolina — something I am quite sure my parents didn’t want either! Now, almost a half-century later, I can’t think of a better place to have staked my flag.
The city took me in, offered me opportunities and friendships, and has seen me through decades of love and loss, pain and joy. I found my love for documentary photography and telling the stories of others who needed a voice — people with AIDS, children with cancer, people living with disabilities and visual impairments, and teenagers with mental health challenges.
Atlanta is home to some of the most incredible nonprofits in the world and they have allowed me to document people in developing countries suffering from poverty and health issues. It has been a privilege that all started with a job as a cub reporter for one of Atlanta’s suburban weekly newspapers.
These images are an homage to the city that has given me so much. Some were taken recently, during the pandemic, and some decades ago. They represent both my love for the city and the opportunities the city has given me to tell its stories. They are just a small snippet of hundreds of thousands of times I have clicked my shutter, and I present them as a poem of admiration for Atlanta.
Many artists make pilgrimages to New York or Paris, but Atlanta gave me the keys to the world.