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  • Pete Leavy in Panama hat - 1957

    In 1957, I began my first photographic essay using a style called ‘street photography’ or ‘social documentary photography’.  In 1957 when I was 15 and underage for entering poolrooms in Baltimore, an older boy took me to Belvedere  Billiards, known at Benny’s.  I learned to play 8-ball, but soon became more interested in expressing and communicating the atmosphere of the place using photography as my medium.  I used a small, quiet Leica camera, exposing the film with available light.  The object was to become invisible in order to get close to the game without interfering with it.  No one appeared to pay any attention to me.  I could get right into card games, pool games, etc. and no one asked about my activities.  This essay was never printed until the 1990s.  I went back to collect oral histories from people who had been coming to the poolroom in that era.  Of the four images here, I’ve recorded oral histories from all by two of the people. 

    1a - Pete Leavy playing cards - Pete would be called in to handle visiting hustlers.  He became a professional gambler and still hangs out in Atlantic City casinos as a mobile pawn broker.

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  • Charlie Webster and Al Seidel - 1957

    1b - Charlie Webster and Al Seidel - Charlie looks on as Al plays his cards. It was common for people to gather around the players at a table and just watch. No one seemed to notice that I was taking pictures. Charlie is still living in Baltimore. Some say that Al died as a young adult from substance abuse.

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  • Jack Eisenberg and Al Obstler - 1957

    1c - Al Obstlier and Jack Eisenberg playing pool. Obstler was an outstanding pool player, but had a psychological need to lose. It took him many years to understand it and learn to deal with it. Eisenberg was a trucker who would hang around the pool hall waiting for calls to handle a long haul. He was also an official in the Teamsters Union.

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  • Arrow Beer - 1957

    1d - This guy has not been identified. He was playing cards with Pete this night. Behind him is an advertisement for Arrow Ber, a local Baltimore brand that is now defunct.

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  • Boy on Screened Porch - Baltimore 1958
    2a - With the poolroom series, I found my approach to photography. I would walk the streets and take pictures of things and people that I found interesting. The next four pictures were taken in 1958 with a medium format camera, a Rolleiflex. The picture of the boy looking out through the screened porch was taken somewhere in downtown Baltimore. I don’t remember where.
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  • Arabers at Market Place - Baltimore 1958
    2b - Baltimore Arabers, produce vendors who went through the streets calling and singing a distinctive verse to announce their arrival. They were a great help to those who were unable to go to the grocery stores to buy food.
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  • Boy on Corner - Baltiomore 1958

    2c - The boy is standing against a police call box with what looks like a bottle of something that he's recently purchased. I haven't been able to locate the location of this corner even thought the call box is numbered.

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  • Melon Vendors - Baltimore 1958

    2d - Mellon vendors at Market Place, the wholesale produce market.

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  • Childrens House - Kibbutz Bar Am - 1971

    3a - Bar Am is a traditional Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz, located on the northern border of Israel. The children lived together in the gan, the focus of their activities.

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  • Kibbutz Mother and Child - 1971
    3b - The mother takes time during lunch break to play with her child in the yard within the confines of the gan where the children live. Notice the position of her hands as she lets go but is there to catch the child in case he falls.
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  • Golden Gate Park, San Francisco - 1968
    4a - Rock concert in Golden Gate Park, 1968, during the flower era. There were often free rock concerts put on by famous bands. People gathered in great numbers on the ground and in the trees. It was a very psycodelic time.
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  • The Castro - San Francisco - 1998
    4b - While the Castro as a neighborhood in San Francisco dates back to the late 1880s, it became identified as a gay neighborhood following the ‘summer of love’ in the neighboring Haight Ashbury district in 1967. By 1975, Harvey Milk had opened a camera store there, and began political involvement as a gay activist, further contributing to the idea of the Castro as a gay destination.
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  • Reuben Kramer - 1995
    5 - Reuben Kramer – Baltimore artist – All through his life, Kramer was closely connected with the Maryland Institute of Art. However, after World War II, a young black artist name Haywood Rivers attempted to enroll during a period when the school was segregated. Kramer, after an unsuccessful battle with the schools administration to have this aspiring artist admitted, started the Baltimore Art Center in 1946 to provide art education to all, regardless of race. The school remained active until the Maryland Institute itself became integrated. In the 1950s, Kramer was among a group of sponsors who brought Marian Anderson to perform in Baltimore. This photograph of Kramer is part of the last photographic essay before he died. The picture shows him immersed among his creations. The mirror that reflects his image enhances the feeling of immersion.
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  • Chinese Restaurant - New York - 1997
    6a - Chinese restaurant kitchen – I was impressed with the heat, the spatter, the frantic activity of food preparation, and the contrast with the meal that is finally served up.
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  • Tatoo Artist - New Orleans - 1997
    6b - French Quarter - Tattoo parlor. The tattoo artist was creating art on his canvas in a store-front with a large window that displayed his activity. As I walked by I stopped to watch. The artist looked up and smiled and then went back to work as I took the picture.
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  • Bourbon Street - New Orleans - 1997
    6c - Jazz singer along Bourbon Street – the loneliness of the performer singing to small crowd of people who may be more interested in their conversation than her music.
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  • Sex Worker - Bangkok, Thailand - 2001
    7a - Commerce - A street prostitute in Bangkok – I met her sitting on the sidewalk. She led us to a ‘rent-by-the-hour’ hotel. With the help of my translator, I listened as she told us of her life. She was very happy to be a sex worker. It paid well and was adequate to support herself, her child, and her mother who took care of the child while she worked. She was most concerned that people in America might see my photographs of her and develop a bad impression of Thailand. I was amazed at how totally normal her life was.
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  • Brothel - Chiang Mai, Thailand - 2003
    7b - Commerce - Brothel in Chiang Mai – The girls are independent and can choose which bar or massage parlor they wish to be associated with. It depends on how successful the owner is in attracting customers. The split the fee 50/50 with the owner, but can move on to another place if they feel the establishment does not draw enough customers.
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  • Bangkok Market Scene - 2001
    7c - Commerce - Market in Bangkok – The market has a life of its own, a complex model organism exhibiting a variety of people, goods, and activities.
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  • Grandfather and Child - Akha Village, Thailand - 2003
    8a - Hill Tribe Villages – The people originate from Tibet and Mongolia, migrating south through China and Burma and into Thailand. Their culture revolves around mountain life. Since there are few mountainous regions south of Thailand, this may be as far south as they can go. The grandfather from an Akha Village stays at home to care for his grandson while the parents and older children go off to work the fields.
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  • Lahu Home - Thailand - 2003
    8b - I stayed with this Lahu family for three days. He is the ‘head man’ of the tribe. The people are Animists, and during my stay we celebrated the coming of the new moon with prayers, incantations, tying of cotton string around people’s wrists, and dancing.
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  • Akha Grandmother - Thailand - 2001
    8c - Opium has long been a major source of income among the Hill Tribe People. While the government has attempted to encourage alternate forms of agriculture, the success is mixed. This particular Akha village is known to be actively involved in the opium trade. The grandmother in the picture stays at home to care for the children while their parents go into the city to work. I was told that she was strung out on opium.
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  • Waitress at Peaches - Farish Street, MS - 2005
    9a - Mississippi, Jackson – Farish Street, a section of Jackson that once was the heart of black culture and commerce. It produced such figures at Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. But with integration, people left Farish Street for more opportunities. Irma – she works as a waitress in Ms. Peaches Café. She’s very proud of the art work her 19 year old son has produced, and wants to find a way for him to get more art education and exposure.
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  • Fish House Customers - Farish Street, MS - 2006
    9b - A couple at the Fish House across the street form Ms. Peaches Café. She calls him’my sweetee, ‘ and thinks he’s very beautiful. They come to the Fish House every day for fried cat fish.
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The Silent Observer

The Silent Observer is a portfolio of my photographs covering 50 years of 'street photography'. They're chosen to illustrate my vision and how I've chosen to communicate it. The collection begins with my first essay when I visited Belvedere Billiards in Baltimore in 1957 at the age of 15. It progresses throughout the years with examples from several projects, ending with the Farish Street project which was exhibited in 2007.

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