Last House Standing and the homeless camps of Baltimore
Ben Marcin has documented the struggle of Baltimore’s homeless through the shanties in backwoods homeless camps and captured lonely last-standing rowhomes in two series documenting transition in Baltimore.
“I got into photography late,” Marcin said. The now 55-year-old software developer at the Social Security Administration got his first camera at age 27 — a couple-hundred dollar Minolta from Sears.
“I’ve run all around Guatemala, India and all over Europe,” Marcin said. “A lot of that has to do with growing up in Germany. We traveled a lot.”
“I used to do all my shooting abroad,” the Bolton Hill resident said, starting with that special little Minolta, learning to shoot on the fly. He eventually switched to a larger format — one that costs $8 a negative and you’re lucky if you get 10 shots a day, he said.
Marcin has spent the last few years documenting homeless camps and abandoned solo rowhouses in and around Baltimore. The work has been showcased in two of his photographic series (“The Camps”, “Last House Standing”) which have been shown in galleries across the country.
“Over the last 5 years, I’ve been getting a lot of my good photographs here in town,” Marcin said.
Five years ago, Marcin went back to using a smaller camera — the Canon 5D Mark II, almost solely with a 24-105mm lens — which allows him to get in and out of areas quickly and make more than one shot.
“I always liked that part of photography,” Marcin said. “I like to be like a jazz musician and go out and start riffing and things come to me.”
But Marcin says a lot of his work happens naturally, and often times in the places where people live and interface – directly or indirectly – with nature. The series Marcin has worked on all have a similar aesthetic and feel — places on the edge where people live in the transition, he said.
“They’re mostly centered, taking a direction toward oblivion, and it’s not always a happy piece,” Marcin said. “But they’re not really happy or sad. There’s one subject, dead in the center. Although the images are all about people, you’ll never see a person. And that’s a very conscious choice.”
“They’re kind of like me,” Marcin said. “I was a bit of a loner in life by choice. And these subjects are standing out there by themselves.”
Marcin prefers to bike through the neighborhoods in East and West Baltimore on his hunt for the Last House Standing. He’ll explore Google Maps and plot out points where the vacant streets have only left one house standing alone after all the neighboring homes have been torn down.
“I was more interested in the transition, not the ruin,” Marcin said.
And in 2011, Marcin spent time documenting homeless camps in and around Baltimore, behind the M&T Bank Stadium, under bridges, and in the woods. A long-time hiker logging more than 5,600 miles (a minimum of 2.5 hours each), Marcin stumbled across the camps and began revisiting and documenting the sites.
“Some are occupied, some are abandoned, sometimes you can’t tell,” Marcin said. “The rowhomes were the last house standing, these homeless houses are the last stand,” Marcin said.
While none of the camps are left, several of the rowhomes remain. Marcin has tasked himself with going back and revisiting the homes he has photographed over the past four years to create diptychs of the ones that do.
Credit: Ben Marcin
Ben Marcin’s work can be seen at benmarcinphotos.com, and has been on display at the C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore.
*This article has been corrected to reflect Ben Marcin’s correct place of employment. Marcin is a software developer at the Social Security Administration.