On the west side of Savannah, between West Boundary and MLK up near Bay, is a little neighborhood called Yamacraw Village. Built in the 1940s, it’s made up largely of Section 8 housing and, if you believe everything you hear, it’s essentially an active minefield. Its residents are all criminals who leer at any outsiders from their porch, and if you walk through there at night, you’ll definitely be shot or mugged or assaulted.
Marian Carrasquero saw through that narrative and decided to go inside to see what it was like for herself. The resulting body of work, Yamacraw in the Sun, demystifies the place and gives an important inside look, all while urging the viewer to rethink their biases.
Carrasquero, a photo major at SCAD interested in documentary photojournalism, started the project in January after going to Yamacraw for a writing class.
Upon starting school, students at SCAD are told not to go in Yamacraw Village, but that same narrative permeates the rest of the town as well. People often think that by saying the area is rife with danger, they’re looking out for newcomers. It’s similar to the advice that tourists get: the hood is all over Savannah, so always be cautious.
“It was actually scary walking in there the first time by myself with my camera bag,” Carrasquero recalls. “A lot of people were like, ‘You’re crazy, you shouldn’t be here.’ Some were like, ‘Yeah, it’s fine, no one’s going to do anything to you. People here are not going to mess with SCAD students.’ And then some people were like, ‘Yeah, if I were you, I would not be walking around here by myself.’”
That attitude raises a lot of questions about Savannah’s socioeconomic status. Why has this area been deemed more dangerous than others? A quick look at a crime map shows that Yamacraw Village is no more statistically dangerous than any other area—there are only two recorded crimes there for the past month. The area is tagged as dangerous based on word of mouth alone.
“It’s something that’s portrayed not only by SCAD and the universities as ‘taking care of their students,’ but in the media and newspapers—it’s like all that’s out there is negative stuff about this part of town,” Carrasquero says.
Still, with all the negative influence, Carrasquero carried on and got to know the residents she was featuring, a crucial step in documentary photo projects.
“The most important thing about doing a project like this is the access you get. You have to build a relationship with someone before you come in and take a picture of them in their home if you want a real, genuine image,” she explains. “I kept coming back again and again, playing with the kids and talking with their parents. I wanted them to feel comfortable with me before I ever threw a camera in their face. At first, it was hard. People really didn’t want me to go inside their houses or photograph their daily life.”
She went during the weekends to maximize her time with the kids, who were home from school and outside playing. Throughout the project, Carrasquero says, she never felt scared once.
“I honestly had no bad experience. Nobody ever threatened me or was violent to me,” she says. “I was expecting a lot more people to be rude. I was expecting that one day I was going to want to give up and not want to do it anymore.”
Carrasquero certainly isn’t the first person to explore Yamacraw as an outsider, but the difference here is that she’s doing it out of curiosity, not as a mercenary. There’s a tendency in projects like these to treat lower-class neighborhoods as wastelands in need of saving, but Carrasquero didn’t conduct her project with that intention, and it really shows in the work.
The photographs are simple and show a range of what life is like in Yamacraw. Neighborhoods are complex, after all, and the juxtaposition of a young boy standing in a bare-bones kitchen and an older woman sitting in an opulent living room highlights that complexity.
The strongest point of this collection is the children that Carrasquero captures. They sit on steps, ride in toy police cars, play in the yard, swing on a rusted swing set—They’re just living and having fun. Confronted with those images, the viewer starts to forget the stigma surrounding Yamacraw.
“I know it’s dangerous, I know you have to be careful,” Carrasquero says, exasperated. “But it’s not the whole story, it’s not the whole picture.”
Yamacraw in the Sun opens at Lee O’Neil Gallery on Friday, June 3 during the First Friday Art March from 6 – 9pm.