We recently caught up with Baltimore-based photographer Rob Brulinski, who shared this Baltimore retrospective photo essay with the Darkroom. Over the next four months, he and partner Rachel Younghans will hit the road documenting eccentric people who make up the more unique side of America. What follows is Brulinski’s account of his experiences in Baltimore.
I’m a photographer because I enjoy telling stories and I’ve come to understand that people inherently like being noticed.
As a resident of Baltimore, you don’t have to go far to run into peculiar characters.
But Baltimore comes with a stigma: that violence runs rampant, city hall is corrupt, drugs flow freely in the streets, and whatever else suburban adults saw on The Wire. Even though they hold some truth, I’ve learned to see past that, but I haven’t been immune to it.
I still have that awful memory of being jumped, strangled and nearly killed in a parking lot by a man who -– by the mercy of some god — tripped and fell headfirst into a wall allowing me to free myself and run off. I’ve seen countless car windows smashed and looted more times then I can remember.
Street photography in Baltimore can easily inspire the same fear as war photography.
Once near Lexington Market, a police officer pointed a Taser gun at my forehead, demanding that I “stop photographing and leave the sidewalk” just as the woman in the driver’s seat was dragged out, while another woman in the passenger side seat went into childbirth labor. What a sight that was.
But for every distressed occurrence is an equally delightful memory.
I witnessed more than twenty young men, known as the 12 O’Clock Boyz, on dirt bikes and ATV’s weaving around moving cars on Howard Street, driving masterfully with their front wheels raised in the air as they hopped sidewalks. As I watched from the sidewalk, one of the dirt bikers in mid-wheelie slapped me a high five! I remember my daily encounters with “Wheelchair Tony,” a well-known homeless man in Mount Vernon. He spent his birthday asking Hispanic construction workers to sign his birthday card as he stole beer from the liquor store refrigerator. His whole week was devoted to finding card signers. I also recall being able to purchase soap, stamps and bottled water on the metro subway (yes, a Baltimore subway exists) all while sharing a nice conversation about the rainy weather with an upbeat call girl.
Being a willful resident of Baltimore has greatly influenced my imagination. My work documents the adoration of youth, religious artifacts, the symbolism in flowers or death and the occasional waving American flag. I don’t believe that my work would have been the same anywhere else in the world. My last book, titled The Copycat, allowed me to appreciate all sorts of folks for their own reasons (particularly the weird ones) and it’s a topic that I’ll be working on for a long time to come.
And so on Sept. 15, my partner Rachel Younghans and I will embark on a four-month road trip across America in search of eccentric people to interview and photograph. Our project, titled Freak Flag America, will exist for the next several months as a journal website, and will eventually become a hardcover book.
We’re spending our days exploring what generates identity and how America’s infinite microcosms define themselves.
Most nights will be spent camping in a tent the size of a bathtub in National Parks, campgrounds and possibly a few front yards. We are completely dedicated to the notion that America is a land of a thousand living folklores and we invite you to follow the journey. America is a place of widespread families and eager travelers, of wild stories and decent memories.
We need your American support! Point us to people to interview, places to visit, and (most importantly) couches to sleep on!
Rob Brulinski is a Baltimore native and son of a working class family. He is a DIY creative artist, director and author. He spent six years of his early life working at a civil engineering company before taking creative arts on as his full-time job. His last book, The Copycat, received national recognition.
Rachel Younghans grew up on a farm in Forest Hill, Maryland. She is a recent graduate of University of Maryland with a certificate in Geographic Information Science. She is an upcoming airbrush fashion designer, videographer and writer. They co-operate Wild Horses Studio.
Brulinski and Yonghans will share stories from the road for their upcoming project Freak Flag America.
-Edited by Stokely Baksh