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'Close Up Baltimore' Tells Stories Of The City, One Portrait At A Time

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'Close Up Baltimore' Tells Stories Of The City, One Portrait At A Time

Photography

'Close Up Baltimore' Tells Stories Of The City, One Portrait At A Time

'Close Up Baltimore' Tells Stories Of The City, One Portrait At A Time

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/425296296/425512032" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
  • "I'm a painter. An illustrator. I dabble in performance. I dance also. And I dabble in sculpture. Dabbling is a momentary experiment with a certain medium in a project that I don't have too much experience working with. I like the intuitive. My mind's not really burdened with the right way or the wrong way to do something."
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    "I'm a painter. An illustrator. I dabble in performance. I dance also. And I dabble in sculpture. Dabbling is a momentary experiment with a certain medium in a project that I don't have too much experience working with. I like the intuitive. My mind's not really burdened with the right way or the wrong way to do something."
    Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore
  • "Winter is better. You can't get nothing on a summer day. You can't get no help in the summer. I don't have no place to stay, but I sleep out here sometimes on the streets. I try to make a little money to buy me a little something to eat because I don't like eating out of trash cans. That makes me sick."
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    "Winter is better. You can't get nothing on a summer day. You can't get no help in the summer. I don't have no place to stay, but I sleep out here sometimes on the streets. I try to make a little money to buy me a little something to eat because I don't like eating out of trash cans. That makes me sick."
    Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore
  • "When I was 16, one of my closest friends passed away in a car accident. She was such a free spirit, so when she passed away I realized I never wanted to give up on my spirit. That's why I push on with my acting."
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    "When I was 16, one of my closest friends passed away in a car accident. She was such a free spirit, so when she passed away I realized I never wanted to give up on my spirit. That's why I push on with my acting."
    Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore
  • "I participated in a program where people are given the tools they need to live the life they want. And for one of the courses my project was putting on a panel discussion about intra-racial racism. Growing up as a dark-skinned woman, there have been incidents where people make certain compliments but they'd be kind of a backhanded compliment like, 'You're attractive for a dark-skinned girl.' "
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    "I participated in a program where people are given the tools they need to live the life they want. And for one of the courses my project was putting on a panel discussion about intra-racial racism. Growing up as a dark-skinned woman, there have been incidents where people make certain compliments but they'd be kind of a backhanded compliment like, 'You're attractive for a dark-skinned girl.' "
    Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore
  • "I work almost 18 hours a day, holding the door at 7-Eleven. I'm an entrepreneur. If it's going great, I didn't know I could track so many good people to help me through the hard times. I lost my job, but they still have theirs."
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    "I work almost 18 hours a day, holding the door at 7-Eleven. I'm an entrepreneur. If it's going great, I didn't know I could track so many good people to help me through the hard times. I lost my job, but they still have theirs."
    Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore
  • "It's important to me that I do what I can to continue telling the truth about what the black experience is in America. I'm hopeful, and hope requires work."
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    "It's important to me that I do what I can to continue telling the truth about what the black experience is in America. I'm hopeful, and hope requires work."
    Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore

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It's a muggy summer day, and Joe Rubino is at the train station in Baltimore, taking pictures of a stranger and asking some deeply personal questions. Later, he'll post this portrait online, along with snippets from the conversation.

"I think that people are hungry for a more real, emotional connection to people," Rubino says.

"Lately, I was thinking about when I was living in Atlantic City. I would get up and get my beach bag and my towel, and suntan lotion. I'd go sit on the beach for the day. I was always a beach person, I loved to get tan. I was more independent then than I am now." Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore hide caption

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Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore

"Lately, I was thinking about when I was living in Atlantic City. I would get up and get my beach bag and my towel, and suntan lotion. I'd go sit on the beach for the day. I was always a beach person, I loved to get tan. I was more independent then than I am now."

Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore

His street photography project, Close Up Baltimore, was inspired by photographer Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York blog.

Rubino, who has lived in Baltimore for decades, has spent his professional life doing photo and video work for nonprofit groups in the city. In April, when riots erupted in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, he watched the news coverage, disturbed by the images of his city. It was particularly painful, he says, because "we know how many people in those neighborhoods are working very hard to just create decent lives and opportunity."

A friend who'd been following the Humans of New York blog for years got in touch with Rubino. "She said: You need to do something like this," he recalls. He told her he wasn't sure he was the right person to do it, but that he'd give it a try anyway.

"My daughter is a straight-A student. She's very talkative. Inquisitive. I want her to be a modest, strong, intelligent black woman." Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore hide caption

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Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore

"My daughter is a straight-A student. She's very talkative. Inquisitive. I want her to be a modest, strong, intelligent black woman."

Joe Rubino/Close Up Baltimore

So, for the past two months, he's been wandering around Baltimore, taking pictures and talking to people. "We wanted to show real people in Baltimore, doing real things, just having lives of meaning," he says.

The project went public last week. The Facebook page and Twitter feed feature brightly lit, closeup portraits. In one, a father boasts about his daughter's straight A's. In another, a young woman describes the backhanded compliments she receives about the color of her skin.

"We make snap judgments about people, but that snap judgment we make is a blunt instrument — it cuts out so much of what's good," Rubino says.

His goal is to make 200 portraits — closeup stories that create a more complete picture of a complicated city.