Photography is my passion and I enjoy the process of bringing stories to life. With each facial expression, setting, or environment in the picture, there is a personal or communal untold story to be shared. The pictures in Baltimore Lives give life to the diverse and complex African-American culture of many people in Baltimore City.
These pictures depict details of urban black people in ordinary life. The images are not meant to demean or stereotype. Warm tone papers and sepia tone uncover their dignity. The lives of many of my subjects are captured going about their daily activities.
Media portrayals of Baltimore center on violence, poor housing, and education. While many of these components are Baltimore’s reality, they don’t represent Baltimore at its core. As people view my photographs, I hope the pictures give the viewers a deeper glimpse and appreciation for African-American life in Baltimore.
I grew up in West Baltimore and attended Union Baptist Church, a civil rights advocacy church. I was heavily influenced by the voting rights and desegregation activities that were spreading throughout the city.
In 1970, two years after the assassinations of Martin Luther King., Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and riots in Baltimore and other cities, I began photographing. I studied details about people’s appearances. That year was critical for me because WMAR TV hired me as an apprentice reporter, giving me access to photographers and a dark room for professionals and I was soon to enter college.
I began undergraduate study at Ohio Wesleyan University in September of the same year and immediately declared Politics and Government as my major. I was also one of two photographers for the campus’s Public Relations Office. This gave me 24-hour access to the office’s dark room. I used school breaks to photograph in Baltimore and printed when I returned to campus. I also photographed in the black communities of Columbus, Ohio.
After two years, I completed my major’s requirements and was able to pursue further my interest in photography. I sought new learning environments and Fine Arts was perfect for me to expand my knowledge base. Guest photographers were invited to lecture and conduct workshops. One guest photographer, Larry Fink, strongly urged me to study in New York and connected me to a mentor. While in New York, I became involved with the Black Photographer’s Annual and am included in two of its publications and toured several cities with exhibits in Russia and the United States. By 1974, I completed the Fine Arts major.
When I go into the darkroom, my goal is to make one good print and then a better one. The rules for composition in photography are the same as for any two-dimensional art. Each of my photographs have pure blacks, brilliant whites, and a strong range of gray values; the picture’s tonal quality should sing. A photograph that is well composed and printed with a full range of tonal qualities that are visually interesting will make the viewer think.
Design elements such as shadows, water, snow, and anything else that add texture make a picture more interesting. My preferred photograph paper is a warm tone, double weight, glossy paper, and in cases where I make the image sepia-toned, I use a cold tone double weight paper. I use standard Tri-X Kodak film and film developer as well as standard Kodak paper developer.
The final image must be appealing to my aesthetics and blend in with images I have recorded previously. I am looking for images that add to the theme of ordinary urban people in everyday life. It is my intention to have documented an image that is compelling and causes the viewer to imagine and create the story.
John Clark Mayden, an attorney in the Baltimore City Solicitor's office for thirty-four years, began photographing urban landscapes and people in 1970. His photographs have been exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, the University of Pennsylvania's Sharp Gallery, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In 2008, he was a Syracuse University Artist-in-Residence at Light Work. Mayden is the author of Baltimore Lives.