'Close Up Baltimore' Tells Stories Of The City, One Portrait At A Time

Jul 23, 2015
Originally published on July 23, 2015 12:50 pm

It's a muggy summer day, and Joe Rubino is at the train station in Baltimore, taking pictures of a stranger and asking some deeply personal questions. Later, he'll post this portrait online, along with snippets from the conversation.

"I think that people are hungry for a more real, emotional connection to people," Rubino says.

His street photography project, Close Up Baltimore, was inspired by photographer Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York blog.

Rubino, who has lived in Baltimore for decades, has spent his professional life doing photo and video work for nonprofit groups in the city. In April, when riots erupted in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, he watched the news coverage, disturbed by the images of his city. It was particularly painful, he says, because "we know how many people in those neighborhoods are working very hard to just create decent lives and opportunity."

A friend who'd been following the Humans of New York blog for years got in touch with Rubino. "She said: You need to do something like this," he recalls. He told her he wasn't sure he was the right person to do it, but that he'd give it a try anyway.

So, for the past two months, he's been wandering around Baltimore, taking pictures and talking to people. "We wanted to show real people in Baltimore, doing real things, just having lives of meaning," he says.

The project went public last week. The Facebook page and Twitter feed feature brightly lit, closeup portraits. In one, a father boasts about his daughter's straight A's. In another, a young woman describes the backhanded compliments she receives about the color of her skin.

"We make snap judgments about people, but that snap judgment we make is a blunt instrument — it cuts out so much of what's good," Rubino says.

His goal is to make 200 portraits — closeup stories that create a more complete picture of a complicated city.

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