There’s more to Baltimore than the gritty, litter-filled streets the world grew to love in “The Wire.” During his five years in Baltimore, photographer Joe Sterne has worked to find the beauty the city has to offer. Recently, he moved with his fiancé to California for a job opportunity, leaving behind a city they had come to love. See some of his favorite images from his time here.
A Q&A with Joe Sterne
Tell us your back story. How did you get into photography in the first place?
I got started as a child with a PAS film that shot APS-C format (where you could choose the crop size). I did that for years in high school and the beginning of college when I could. (It was tough to afford all the film!) After a year or so in college, my parents bought me a Sony PAS digital camera for Christmas. I used that for years before I upgraded to a DSLR after college.
How long did you live in Baltimore? What brought you here?
I lived in Baltimore area for about five years. I moved from Ithaca, N.Y. after graduation in 2007 and basically lived in the surrounding area or in Baltimore since then. I worked at Under Armour right out of college and then moved on to Prometric on the other side of the harbor. Recently, I moved to California.
Did your photography change how you viewed the city? If so, how?
I found a underlying beauty in the city that I hadn’t seen before. This is a side of the city not often showed to the public at large.
Did you evolve as a photographer during the time range in which these photos were taken?
Very much so! These photos span the entire time that I’ve had my DSLR, which as been a couple of years now. These photos also were captured as the Photowalk Alliance blossomed. I’ve learned a ton in the past couple years and still honing my craft everyday.
Were there any photographers in the Baltimore community who you admired?
Quite a few! Zach Egolf, John Waire, John Milleker (shoots film), and all the Photowalk Alliance members that are learning and growing. Some of them are: Will Cocks, Ben Synder, Julia Dachner, Patrick Onofore and Noe Todorovich.
What advice would you give to someone moving to Baltimore?
Don’t watch the Wire (or ignore it). Base your views of Baltimore on what you personally experience, not what others’ have. Explore as much as you can on foot. Attend as much stuff as you can. The beauty appears when you don’t expect it.
What’s the funniest thing that happened to you while you were taking a photo?
Beside Zach flicking me off? It’s a toss up between “photo bombs” and people asking them for me to take a photo for them.
Our city is often depicted as either gritty or campy, but most of your images show the beauty that is in Baltimore. Was that something you were intentional about?
Anyone can make a city look gritty. I wanted to show the beauty that exists in Baltimore that some people don’t see, at least on the surface. My family (on my dad’s side) hails from Baltimore — both of my grandparents still live here. My grandfather has deep ties to the Baltimore Sun and he showed me as a child to look at all sides of Baltimore. He showed me to never discount the people living there, while my grandmother bragged that Baltimore is “the biggest smallest city you will ever be in.” She taught me that you have to network and be kind to everyone you meet as you never know when you will see them again.
What would you say to other young photographers who are interested in getting more serious about their photography?
Keep learning. Join a club/group, research stuff on the internet, rent lenses/bodies, and don’t be afraid to play around. It will take some time to get better (I’m still learning) so make sure to enjoy the journey.
Any regrets or things you wish you had done differently?
I wish I bought a DSLR sooner and really started pursuing photography at a younger age.
What will you miss about photographing Baltimore? What are you most looking forward to capturing in your new neighborhood?
I’ll miss the distinct neighborhoods that are within close walking distances of each other. Each neighborhood has its own look and feel. I loved the fact I could get most places on foot if I wanted to. I’m looking forward to exploring new cities/places around me on the west coast. After doing my Sea to Sea time-lapse, I can’t wait to start finding cool new things to photograph.