Baltimore United Viewfinders, part 1

12 photos, 3 videos

Baltimore United Viewfinders is a youth leadership initiative where participants use multimedia arts to explore their definition of self and place, encourage community action and exchange visual and verbal dialogue.

What they don’t say on their website is that they’re a group of teenagers that use art and photography to document their lives in East Baltimore.

In recent years, the area known as Middle East in Baltimore – just east of Johns Hopkins Medical Center – has been in conversations of urban decay, housing abandonment and conflicts between residents and Hopkins.

But if you look at the groups’ published photo book, ‘Eastside Stories,’ you see a different Middle East. [Read more below]

Meet Derrick Smith:

Danisha Harris:

Michael Diggs:

Viewfinder Danisha Harris compares members to a viewfinder on a camera, where each person has their own perspective and way of looking at their subject. The photographs in the book show East Baltimore as a community and the faces of the people that call it home.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon this inspiring group after meeting one of the co-founders, Anne Kotleba. In the fall of 2010 she and Natalie Tranelli, then in Maryland Institute College of Arts’s MFA in Community Arts program, founded the group. They started with eight members and now have 17. Members’ are mostly between 13 and 18, but the group has also branched out to recruit younger residents as Junior Viewfinders.

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with the Viewfinders at MICA PLACE on North Collington Avenue, where they meet daily. Their work not only impressed me but inspired me, so I interviewed several members to get their perspective on the program and their art.

My hope is to have all the individual perspectives be strongest when heard together. They are the picture of Middle East, true documentarians.