Charles Bernard Nieberding, a freelance photographer recalled for ability to capture a likeness in a portrait, died of cancer Nov. 16 at his Roland Park home. He was 87.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Penrose Avenue, he was the son of Bernard Joseph Nieberding and his wife, Elizabeth Frances McTague. He attended 14 Holy Martyrs School and Loyola High School and was a 1950 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School. He studied at the University of Baltimore and Loyola University Maryland’s evening school.
He began working as a meat cutter and soon changed careers to selling and demonstrating Remington Rand typewriters and office equipment.
He met his future wife, Regina Elsner, while she was working in Roland Park, where he had moved. They married, and she gave him an Argus camera as a gift. He soon became fascinated with photography and launched his photography career in 1965.
“I was from Germany, and my family wanted photographs of me. I introduced him to the camera. I bought for him — I think it was $60 — at Hochschild’s Belvedere.”
She said her husband was a skilled salesman but soon took the camera apart and reassembled it.
“He was interested in everything,” she said.
“C.B. transformed his self-taught hobby into a full-time profession,” said his son, Sean Nieberding. “Over his 30-plus year career, he covered a wide range of subjects and clients as a sought-after freelance photographer. His loyal clients included Baltimore Magazine, Maryland Magazine, BG&E, Johns Hopkins University, the Peabody Institute, the Walters Art Museum, Center Stage, the United Way, Pimlico Race Course, Mercantile Bank, CSX Systems, and the Maryland Port Authority.”
His son said that Mr. Nieberding, after initially working in the kitchen, built a darkroom in his home.
“He bought his own chemicals and made his own prints,” said his son, who lives in Frankfurt, Germany. “He rarely went to a commercial photo developing studio.
“My father captured some of Baltimore’s most iconic images, including portraits of John Clark, the leader of Baltimore’s Black Panther chapter in late ’60s and early ’70s, and of the Baltimore Block striptease artist Blaze Starr,” his son said. “He also photographed politicians including William Donald Schaefer, Robert F. Kennedy, Edmund Muskie, Barbara Mikulski, Mary Pat Clarke, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Spiro Agnew.”
Mr. Nieberding worked closely with the late Margaret Dougherty, editor of Maryland Magazine, a state government publication, and with William Stump, a former Baltimore Magazine editor.
“My father’s assignments there took him to all corners of his beloved home state,” his son said. “He captured local images including children running along the beach at Ocean City, the annual peach harvest in Caroline County, and the rustic charm of antique stores on Main Street in New Market.”
Mr. Nieberding preferred mechanical cameras and did not make the change to digital photography. His son said that the 1990 recession also prompted him to retire from commercial photography. He then joined the accounting staff at the United States Census Bureau. Over the following 10 years, he worked in accounting at Leedmark, the R.E. Michel Company and Notre Dame of Maryland University.
“After retiring in 2000, C.B. took pleasure selling prints at fairs such as Artscape,” his son said. “His images of Blaze Starr and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor were consistently in demand.”
Mr. Nieberding had a long association with the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. He photographed numerous events and recitals and often walked the corridors of the music school taking pictures of rehearsing and practicing students.
“He had a wonderful wry quiet sense of humor,” said Elizabeth Schaaf, retired Peabody Institute archivist. “He had a special talent. His work was magical.”
She also said, “He had a special eye and an ability to capture a look. The effect was electric. He was able to dig into people in his photographs and you could see what they were thinking."
Mr. Nieberding donated his extensive library of negatives and prints taken for Peabody to the school in 2001. The school then mounted an exhibition of his work at the Galleria Piccola on East Centre Street. The show exhibited highlights selected from his numerous black-and-white prints.
His son said his father was an avid reader and contributor to local and national newspapers. His wrote letters and opinion pieces for The Baltimore Sun and The New York Times Magazine.
In 2006 he wrote to The Sun to express his feelings about Pigtown in Southwest Baltimore, where he was raised.
“I would like to remind the current Pigtown-Washington Village rehabbers of that old adage: 'you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ — and add, so why try?” he wrote. "My mom grew up on South Poppleton Street near Washington Boulevard, and I lived in and around Pigtown for 17 years until late 1949 — an experience I would not trade for any other.
“The area was decidedly blue-collar, but solid. Except for some obvious seediness, it looks much the same today,” he wrote. “If the Pigtown rehabbers want to revitalize and solidify the area, they should never reject its blue-collar history by even thinking about bringing in vegan eateries or embracing a wimpy, upscale name like ‘Washington Village.’ I don’t just tell people I grew up in old Pigtown; I brag that I did.”
His son said his father had many passions, including Maryland horse racing, billiards, and cooking.
In addition to his son and wife of 64 years, a retired Hutzler’s Estee Lauder cosmetics sales associate, survivors include a grandson, Jake Nieberding, also of Frankfurt.