Just when you thought wet photography was flatlining, Baltimore’s community-minded art gallery, Current Space, is here to save it. Current has announced plans to build a black-and-white community darkroom at 421 N Howard Street.
Baltimore-based photographer Jack Radcliffe started taking pictures of his daughter Alison shortly after her birth at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1975. That’s nothing unusual; what is remarkable is that Radcliffe never stopped aiming his lens at his daughter, capturing her in black lipstick and dramatic eyeliner at age 15, smoking with her long-haired boyfriend at 16, looking sad with a shaved head at 20, eating at the Golden West at age 36. It’s remarkable to view the metamorphosis of a face — and of a person — over time.
“My photographs of Alison, because of the nature of our relationship, are very much a father-daughter collaboration-Alison permitting me access to private moments of our life, which might, under different circumstances, be off-limits to a parent. The camera, early in her life, became part of our relationship, necessitating in me an acceptance, a quietness,” Radcliffe writes. Some of our favorite images are below.
Valentine’s Day is approaching. Are you tired of the forced romantic dinner where the food tastes as if your favorite restaurant sent in its second-string cooks to accommodate the unusually large — and awkward — dinner crowd? Why not attend a red-carpet debut featuring California photographer, Amy Martin-Friedman, for wine, hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction that benefits victims of domestic partner abuse?
The event runs from 5 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, February 14, at Subtle Rebellion Salon+Gallery in Harford County. Friedman will unveil her collection of Baltimore-based portraits. Prints, note cards, t-shirts, and coffee table books showcasing her photography will be for sale. A portion of the proceeds go to SARC, a Harford County domestic violence shelter.
Friedman’s photographs are part of her “A Day in My Shoes” project. Each year Friedman partners with a new city and shelter to help women who are trying to escape abusive relationships. Women in each city, not just women who’ve experienced abuse, volunteer their time and money to pose in a fashionable pair of shoes for Friedman at a location that has some personal meaning. Friedman focuses her lens on the stems — legs and shoes, to make all women, including the one’s whose safety depends on anonymity, feel safe and powerful.
Why buy a photograph of some stranger’s legs? Aside from the good cause, these mostly black-and-white photographs are works of art that include some of Baltimore’s most striking backdrops, including Federal Hill and Mount Vernon. I was lucky enough to follow Friedman around Baltimore for the photo shoot last September. Trust me when I say you’ll be in awe of the way she plays with angles and architecture. It didn’t hurt that some of her volunteers had calves that could make Tina Turner jealous. Sneak a peek beforehand here.
The ad on Craigslist looked too good to be true. “Photographers needed for Ravens exhibition games. Please send details about your qualifications with contact phone number.”
I am a firm believer in the rule that if it sounds too good to be true it’s most likely a scam. But on the net, as long as it doesn’t require opening or downloading files, or giving out your social security number, I’m game.
I sent my brief photographer bio: yearbook editor (albeit many decades ago in the previous century), more than 25 years’ experience in PR (taking photos for employers and clients), and a few stints as an assistant to wedding photographers. My email included links to my photography website and my address on Flickr tm.
During the phone interview, I learned the job was for Fans Pix, a business that takes photos of the Ravens’ faithful tailgating before the game and capturing them celebrating, hopefully, during the game. The photos are then posted on a website for sale.
After persuading my interview screener that I not only love photography, which I do, and I’m a rabid Ravens fan, which I am, I got a tryout for the first exhibition game. The assignment sounded simple enough. Shoot at least 400 photographs of fans but not candids. You must ask permission before you take a person’s photograph.
Pay is 20 cents per photograph of a person or group, and no payment for multiple pictures of the same subject. However, if you add or subtract someone from the group, it’s a new photograph.
My incentives are watching the Ravens games and honing my photography skills so the money isn’t an issue. (Two years ago, I decided, after a quarter-century career in public relations, to aspire to a new career as a professional photographer.)
Based on my past but limited experience as an event snapshot shooter, I thought, “How difficult can this job be?” Turns out, it’s not quite as easy as I thought. The job requires sales skills: Surprise, some people hate — and this is not too strong a word — having their picture taken. Other people view you as being akin to those guys on the beach who ask to snap your photo and sell you those mini thing-a-ma-jigs with your photo inside. People snarled, “No!” when I asked in my most polite tone, “Can I take your picture for the Ravens’ Fans website?”
(We received instructions not to ask only, “Can I take your picture?” We were told to emphasize, “Ravens Fans website.” It’s a selling point that never escaped me.)
Fortunately, many people enjoy posing for the camera. My first goal: to learn how to identify the ones who like it and then shoot enough photographs to make the cut, while meanwhile still watching the Ravens game. After the first game, I was among the eight out of 15 wanna-be Fan Pix photographers invited back for the second game.
The second game was easier; I’m learning. At both exhibition games for tailgating photos, they assigned me to Ravens Walk, the path from Camden Yards to the front of M&T Stadium. It’s lined with businesses featuring attractions and games to lure fans, such as throwing footballs through tires for a prize.
I saw what looked like a flash mob…it was the Ravens cheerleaders pep squad strolling through Ravens Walk signing autographs. Men stalk them like they are celebrities — they are as far as these guys are concerned. The guys pose with the cheerleaders, handing their cell phones to friends to get their picture so they presumably can text it far and wide. Seeing an opportunity to cash in on this, I scurried to the spot like a halfback scrambling to daylight. No permission needed here, I just snapped away, then handed them my Fans Pix card.
Maybe it was moments like these, and others getting shots of kids with their parents, that helped me make the cut and get the job. Like any rookie, I was thrilled to be on the roster for Opening Day, Ravens versus the Steelers on 9/11. This was potentially the game of the year. My goal: to meet my quota before the game so I could concentrate on the game.
The game, as we now know, was one of the best Ravens performances of the year. They kicked Steelers butt. I observed that day, there is a direct correlation between the Ravens’ performance and people being willing, even clamoring, to have their picture taken. When the game was going well fans asked me to take their photo and then thanked me for doing so.
As the season progressed, I developed the photographer’s equivalent to a quarterback’s pocket presence. I began to know who was around me, who to avoid and who to target. And I learned not to judge prospects prematurely. Just because someone looks like a sourpuss who would spit in my face if I put my camera lens in front of them doesn’t mean that dour look won’t metamorphose into a smile. While sometimes I was surprised, more often my gut was right — but I followed the salesman principle that if you don’t ask they can’t say yes.
On Monday mornings, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh likes to cite what players and the team learned. I assess my game day as well. After all, for me, this is also practice for weddings and events. How do I get people to smile, open their eyes, and loosen up? (When I am finally able to take easy photos of people tailgating in the parking lots, getting people to relax will not be an issue.)
People’s presence in front of a camera lens fascinates me. There are women who immediately, comfortably, flash a wide smile. There are men who grimace their best grin as if they are about to have prostate surgery without an anesthetic.
After one game I received an email from my Fans Pix supervisor complimenting my photos. I wanted to frame it because I do take pride in my work. I may not meet my quota because my goal is for people to really like their photo. I show them what I shoot and I’m surprised by their surprise when they say, “Hey, that’s really good.”
I’ve been fortunate. Most of this season, my assigned area during the game has been on the 100 level, with sections that are in between the 50 and 20-yard lines. I could never afford to watch a game from this vantage point. But I’ve stood with the cops and security detail taking in the action and watching the Ravens compile an undefeated home record. It’s been a winning season for the team, their fans and me.
Jennifer Bishop snapped her first photo in 1965, when she was eight, using a Kodak Instamatic she’d received for her birthday – a shot of her doll, housed protectively in the mailbox during an Ohio snowstorm. Though I’ve not seen this early image, the child’s-game composition seems distantly to foretell Jennifer’s trademark documentary style — quirky and deeply humanistic — her compassionate knack for capturing people, often moms and children, in character- and circumstance-revealing moments. Take “South Baltimore,” for instance, the photo on our main page, in which a serious-looking little girl wearing dark nail polish presents her baby doll to the camera, as if it’s a real child, a small boy two steps behind clutches a toy pistol, and a grown woman seen through the banister looks on expressively, holding her own real live baby.
I’ve been a fan of Jennifer’s photography since I discovered it a few years ago, but of course she’s been working as a photojournalist in Baltimore since 1975.
One of several Hopkins students who started Baltimore’s City Paper, she published a weekly stand alone photo in every issue for 17 years (1977-1994). These photos were comprised of “small, revelatory moments that define the strangeness of everyday life…and seek to chronicle the soul of Baltimore,” wrote Glenn McNatt in The Baltimore Sun. She also worked as a staff photographer for The News American, and since 1981 has freelanced, shooting pictures for a variety of magazines, agencies, and institutions all over the world. In 2006, she started Maryland’s first Heart Gallery, a photo exhibit to promote the adoption of children with special needs. Recently, she has focused on projects that advocate for better lives for people with disabilities, such as the award-winning “What’s Possible.”
Photographer Henry Horenstein notes, “Jennifer Bishop’s beautifully crafted photographs manage to blend sympathy, optimism, and even humor while describing everyday events and critical conditions. She is one of my favorite photographers.”
Tour 27 of Jennifer’s favorite images up close and personal starting this week. From November 14 through January 6, “30 Years of Photographs by Jennifer Bishop” hangs at the Chesapeake Gallery at Harford Community College in Bel Air. Don’t miss the reception and talk (including Powerpoint presentation) this Wednesday, November 16, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
We talked to the artist about her photo show, her philosophy, and what’s she working on lately.
Fells Pt. Mother, 1981
How would you describe your eye, your best strength?
I’m good at spotting unlikely beauty and moments that have some element of quiet drama or suspense, but I can’t conceptualize or make those things up. I look for them in real, ordinary life, documentary style. I love pictures that make you want to look twice, because they’re more than the sum of their parts. Sometimes there’s a little uneasiness to the scene. I often don’t know if I captured that until later when I have more time to look at what I got. I’m working in the realm of photos that are journalistic, not fantastic or surreal or digitally manipulated.
What made you want to keep taking photos after your age-eight doll composition?
Well, I’ve long since lost the doll, but I still have her photo. And nosiness drives me. I’d like to see everything, especially the things I’m not invited to. My camera is my ticket to many sights, and it can shield me and help me endure scenes that are intense, and let me hold onto moments, places and people I love. So how could I not keep taking photos? Specifically the street photos are so fun for me. On a hot summer’s day, there is a lot of life to be seen out on a Baltimore street. I love driving around not knowing what I’ll find.
Teenaged Mother, 1992
Which are some favorite images from each of the three decades you’ve been working?
In the early 80’s I took a picture of a mother dangling her baby across her lap which I affectionately refer to as the Fell’s Point Pieta. The look on the mother’s face, the turned away man, the half-hidden sibling, and the stain on the wall…all hint at a darker side to a sacred kind of love. As do two other similar images from the next two decades: a teenaged mother lying on her bed in an embrace that almost crushes her son…and a Remington “Pieta” from 2011, of a mother holding her daughter in a wading pool. I like the intricate mother/child dynamic in each of these.
How has your POV or way of making photos changed over time, if at all?
Always, I’ve felt affection for my subjects, but I think my earlier photos were more cynical, funny one-liners, and now they are warmer, sadder and/or more hopeful. The older I get, the more I see people as complicated and sympathetic.
What is the most challenging thing about being a photographer, technically and emotionally?
Technically: There are endless mistakes to be made, and I’m still discovering new ones. I refuse to carry heavy equipment, so my photos are never as perfect as they might be. Emotionally: Behind the camera, I get to be a silent, detached witness. But getting in the habit of splitting consciousness that way, I miss being fully present. I can shoot it, or I can experience it, but I can’t do both at the same time. For that reason, it’s most challenging to photograph my own children.
What are you shooting now?
Incongruous, man-made Baltimore landscapes for www.whoweam.com.