Michael Schmelling is an esteemed photographer who has published in several magazines and collections, most notably The Wilco Book. Atlanta came about when he was trying to decide on a project to combine music and photography. He considered a project like Tallahassee by the Mountain Goats, but ultimately decided that Aquemini was going to be the inspiration and set out to shoot Atlanta.

Schmelling has an excellent eye, and he has presented us with a visually arresting collection of photos to represent Atlanta. I’m not from Atlanta and haven’t spent a significant amount of time there, so I can’t speak to how well he’s represented the city. My overall impression of this book is that the two things that caught Schemlling’s attention the most appear to be youth culture and tattoos. There are also photos of people in the studio, at the clubs, in the cars, and around town. My minor complaint here is that outside of one photo of MF Doom, there’s not a lot of attention paid to underground acts to come out of Atlanta, such as Danger Mouse or Prefuse 73. I realize that these two aren’t really of the scene the way other artists are, but I would just like some alternative perspectives thrown in there to balance things out.

My biggest problem with this book is the text. There is barely any, and the small bit that is there, provided by New Yorker culture writer Kelefa Sanneh doesn’t do anything to provide insight into the photo essay that we’re looking at. If anything, I felt more confused reading the small pieces scattered throughout the book. There are some good interviews at the end with Andre 3000, Ludacris, Gucci Mane, Big Boi, Shawty Lo, and The-Dream, but these are tacked on at the end. If there were more interviews spread throughout the book, it would do a much better job of presenting the Atlanta hip hop scene to the rest of the world.

As it is, we have an excellent collection of photos with little explanation as to what we’re looking at. If Schmelling wanted the photos to stand alone completely, I would have respected that decision. But since text accompanies the photos, I would like to see it provide more insight. With the odd use of text in this book, I just end up frustrated.