Local photographer gives Baltimore a close-up

The Baltimore Sun
City photographer creates Humans of New York spin-off

A local photographer and a documentarian have started a blog to give voice to average Baltimoreans.

Beginning July 14, photographer Joe Rubino and social media strategist Meryam Bouadjemi will post photos and stories gathered from neighborhoods across the city to Close Up Baltimore Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Rubino, who has been a photographer for 30 years, said the project aims to give a humanizing depth to the faces residents see every day.

"We walk around the city, and we're all cardboard cutouts until we get to the real person that's in there," Rubino said.

Rubino said the project was inspired by the popular photography blog Humans of New York for which photo-blogger Brandon Stanton posts pictures and personal stories from people he meets on the street. Since starting HONY in 2010, Stanton, a former bond trader, has grown a loyal social media following of millions and parlayed the brand into three books.

Rubino said Baltimore's need for a HONY spin-off became apparent after the city erupted with riots and violence after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old who died in police custody in April. According to Rubino, city residents were misrepresented in the news and the city was portrayed as "a caricature of urban desolation."

"We needed to change the narrative about Baltimore," he said. "We thought the best way to do that would be to talk to people who contribute to the rich life in the city and give a different a view than the one represented by the national media."

Rubino said he has already interviewed about 100 people in about a dozen neighborhoods — including Mondawmin, Hampden and Patterson Park — and that "90 percent" of people he has approached have been happy to participate.

"What I've noticed, once you start talking to them, they'll just keep talking and they really open up," he said.

Rubino said asking strangers for photos "doesn't come naturally" to him, but that the responses he has gotten encourage him.

"When this project came up, I wasn't sure I could do it," he said, but "the first couple days were tremendously exhilarating. My whole consciousness shifted from 'How am I going to deal with the rejections?' to 'Isn't this amazing?'"

Rubino said starting Close Up Baltimore has enlightened him.

"I'm getting to see parts of the city I don't spend time in and talking to people I wouldn't normally talk to," he said. "I think if we all did that we'd be better off."

cjedra@baltsun.com

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