After 17 Years in California,
a Mountain Girl Returns
Athens, Ga., photographer Amanda Greene recaptures scenes from her Southern childhood.
Words & Photos by Amanda Greene
I was born in Clayton, Ga. My grandparents lived up there. My mother grew up there, but we lived in Atlanta. It was, I think, cheaper to have a baby in the hospital up there. Always, when I was little, I was like, ‘I’m a mountain girl.’ I had this pride that I was from the mountains, even though I didn't live in the mountains. That’s where I was born.
I was in California 17 years. It was either 16 or 17. I shot and assisted on super-commercial movie posters, high-end celebrity shoots. I got kind of dialed in without planning on it after I got out of school.
I don't want to say everything was fake, but a lot of the things were sort of cultivated and curated to look a certain way. I'm used to being on a movie set or a photo set, and it's like, ‘Oh, let's make this thing look cool and old.’
The late, great Rev. Howard Finster, looking authentically old and cool, in front of his home at Paradise Garden in Pennville, Ga.
When I lived in California, I would not shoot pictures for myself as much. But when I would come home to visit for Christmas or my birthday, I was just overwhelmed. The whole aesthetic is different than it is in the West. I just kind of missed it.
I was talking to a photographer in California, and he was like, “How do you get your photos to have that ‘vintage’ look?’ He was asking me about what I do technically. And I was like, well, I don't do anything. That's just the way they look.
My dad died a little over four years ago. Something like that can happen, and being in a place can just suddenly seem so stupid. It was like, 'Oh, I live out here and I make a lot of money and I work all the time, and it's like really pretty and there's nice weather. And I hate it.' I wanted to be here, because my mother lives here and my grandmother, who is now 101.
Years ago, when I was still in college, my mom and I went up to Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden. I didn't buy anything, because I didn't have any money. Rev. Finster was playing the guitar, and my mom was kind of like, OK, can we go now? But he was telling me stories and singing, and there was nobody else there.
When I moved here from California, I had so much shit I had to get rid of. I went through my negatives from college. I had lived in California my whole life, and I was like, I can't bring everything. I just wanted to find the negatives of those photos of Howard Finster and throw everything else away.
When I moved back here in 2010, I drove. I had never driven across the country. When I was driving through Oklahoma, I had a little bit of anxiety, like the opposite of claustrophobia — because there's just nothing there. And then, I swear, right as I crossed the state line into Arkansas, it got green, and the road started curving, and I was like, ‘OK. This, I'm familiar with. There's kudzu vines and Chik-fil-A.’ It was all downhill from there.
Some of the places I went to in Clayton when I was little are still there, like this old grocery store. It’s crazy. There's taxidermy and there's plastic funeral flowers right above the baloney. And they have really good farm-fresh eggs that are from someone's chickens who lives up there.
I like finding things like that. I guess I take comfort in them. I like seeing things that haven't changed, because I know that there will be a time when all of that is gone.
Andy's Market is the grocery store near my grandparents' house. Andy would deliver groceries to my grandmother, Kathleen Brown, who is now 101. It really hasn’t changed in my lifetime. It smells the same as it did when I was little.
So I went to Graceland not because of Elvis but because of the Paul Simon song. You are not allowed to take photos there for any use, and these ladies were waiting for the bus that takes you back across the street to the parking lot. I snuck this photo literally “shooting from the hip.”
I was with my dad in this old cemetery and he didn’t understand why I was taking photos of these flowers, but I am always drawn to them. The colors are so crazy. When I was really little, like 4, I told my mom that I wouldn’t put plastic flowers on her grave but that I would plant pansies instead.
Left: Mountain City, Ga. Right: Near Sylva, N.C.
Above: Small house, big tree.
Below: I like singular trees. I don't know if this one was dead or just dormant. I like dead trees out on their own and always look for woodpeckers when I see one.
Hydrangeas from my mother's yard.
Social Circle, Ga.
Inside Claude T. Wiley’s General Store. They have been open 95 years. The son and daughter of the original owner run the store.
Left: Good Hope, Ga. Standard general store fare, they serve biscuits and sell live bait.
Right: Metter, Ga. This chevron has an ostritch, buffalo and geese. Inside you can buy bags of feed for $1 or $2 and feed the animals.
This is on the way to a farmhouse that my dad owned. The towels on the line made me gasp when I saw them. The pastel colors, to me, are so perfect together. I had to shoot through a chain link fence to get the photo and there was a guy set up selling produce right where I was shooting from. I chatted with him for a long time and bought a beautiful jar of honey from him. It has the honeycomb in it. Nice.
Everett’s Music Barn has live bluegrass music every Saturday night, and has for over 40 years. Below: They needed money to keep the place going and had a fundraiser.
This lady is great. I think her name is Miss Claire. She sets up this watermelon stand and is there pretty much every day in the summer.
Jaemor Farms, Alto, Ga.
Strawberry season. Almost as good as peach season. I bought, I think, two gallons of strawberries this day. Jaemor sells fried pies, ice cream, local produce, breads and doughnuts, jam, jelly, pepper relish, chow chow, etc.
In the winter when my Uncle Robert gives me a 40-pound bag of unshelled pecans I take them here and have them run the pecans through the cracking machine and the blower — makes it easy to get the nut meat out of the shell.
Top: Apples in Mountain City, Ga., at the weekend flea market. This place is great.
Bottom left: Okra at Osage Market in Dillard, Ga.
Bottom right: Blueberry picking! There is a house near where I used to live and they have hundreds of blueberry bushes in the back yard. You pick your own and it is I think $1 a pound. It is a lovely place and I would come home with a huge amount of blueberries. This photo was on my front porch.
Left: Social Circle, Ga. Right: Clayton, Ga.
Somewhere in South Carolina
Above: I was driving from Atlanta to Charleston. I like taking back roads because I come across things like this. The colorful bouquets on either side of the building are plastic easter eggs on ribbons. They were blowing in the wind. Lovely.
Below: Again somewhere in South Carolina on the same trip to Charleston. Makes me think of a John Steinbeck novel.