The Darkroom interviews the creators of the Copycat Project, Rob Brulinski and Alex Wein. The duo produced a historical and pictorial documentation of the landmark Copy Cat building in a 140-page, 12-inch x 12-inch hardcover book, which features portraits of 130 residents and the avant-garde culture of creativity defining the space.
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On Guilford Avenue and E. Oliver Street stands the Copy Cat building, nicknamed for the Copy Cat printing company once housed there. The beaten and worn-out canvas on the top of the building, a blank billboard, reflects empty ad space in the sun’s rays. Arched windows cracked to let in air, small satellite dishes and single air condition units litter the quilt work of bricks and window panes. Nearby, a train horn honks as the sound of motion echos in harmony with the soundtrack of the city. The 165,000 square foot building is a remnant of Baltimore’s industrial past, but inside you find the hustle and bustle of a community known as the creative class.
“I would say the people who live here now are all part of the creative class but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are artists,” Wein said. “It means they prefer to live in this unconventional manner and create their home with form and with function … it’s more like a mentality in the way you want to live your life than it is about classifying yourself by your profession.”
Brulinski and Wein are the creators of the Copycat Project, a historical and pictorial documentation of the landmark building. And a landmark building it is, once the home to the Crown Cork & Seal Company, which produced more than 40 billion bottle caps a year, and was founded by William Painter, the inventor of the bottle seal.
“This building ran 24/7, day and night of power,” Brulinski said. “There was so much power coming into this building. … I can’t imagine the noise that was made throughout the years.”
By the 1960s, Crown Cork & Seal had left Baltimore, opting to move to Philadelphia, and smaller industrial businesses moved into the building. And in the 1980s, the building began its transformation into a haven for artists in the Station North Arts district.
Today, on the inside, floors are divided into studio lofts with tall windows and even taller ceilings. Elements of the building’s former factory self are little reminders of its past. In any room, surprises can be found and even if you’re never invited in, the Copycat Project gives you a peek inside a different creation one room at a time: Unimaginable interiors that would pistol-whip even the most ambitious home decorators — not to mention that some of the rooms have recording studios, galleries, and even indoor skate ramps.
“Well, many apartments — since this building has an insane industrial past — have these anchor points in their ceilings so often times we’ve run into a trapeze or a swing of some sort. We’ve also seen skate ramps, half pipes,” Wein said.
When Brulinski and Wein moved into the building, they never intended to create the Copycat Project. They simply came to experience what it would be like to be part of the building, be part of the culture, and run their Wild Horses Studios. But they soon found themselves eager to learn more and as the gears started turning back in November … for the creators, it felt right, it made sense, and a project was born.
With help from a Kickstarter campaign and a couple of grants, the duo produced a 140-page, 12-inch x 12-inch hardcover Copycat Book, featuring portraits of 130 residents in their living space and an essay about the building’s former lives. They also teamed up with filmmaker Tyler Davis of Monolith Productions to shoot a 15-minute, single-take walkthrough, showcasing a more soulful side of the once industrial giant.
Even though their book is sold out, the photographers hope to attract a publisher.
“This building is not just the people, it’s also how they are making their little worlds,” Brulinski said. “It’s very different from the buildings and apartments you see in the skyline. You can build what you want, you can do whatever you want in your space. This microcosm is very different from the outside world — you sit from these windows and you look out, and it’s a different world.”