Jennifer B. Bodine: Bodine’s City
The Photography of A. Aubrey Bodine
Published: December 7, 2011
By Jennifer B. Bodine
A. Aubrey Bodine started working as a messenger at The Baltimore Sunday Sun in 1920, when he was all of 14 years old. He was to remain at the Sun until the day he died in 1970, for most of those years as feature photographer. As such, he wasn’t called upon to cover fires or crime scenes or political shenanigans. Instead, he could take time to capture the feel of a place, the elegance of a shape, the mood of a rainy night, the personality of a particular character. And this he amply did. During his long career, Bodine produced thousands of iconic photographs, nearly all depicting some aspect of Baltimore.
Bodine’s City: The Photography of A. Aubrey Bodine, a new coffee-table book assembled by his daughter Jennifer Bodine, is a collection of 154 of Bodine’s photographs, all shot within four miles of his home in Mount Vernon. Some—like an eerie portrait of his friend H.L. Mencken—are already famous; others have never been published before. To open the book is to travel back in time. A stark minimalist photo of a functioning Bethlehem Steel coke works is white with steam; a doctor makes a house call in a horse-drawn carriage; in early photos, many of the streets are gas-lit. (Coincidentally, the block of Park Avenue where City Paper is located appears numerous times in the book—in a shot from 1935 and several from 1948, for instance. Bodine lived close by.)
The images range from Norman Rockwell-like—as in a 1937 portrait of three boys sitting on a log and fishing near the Hanover Street Bridge—to quite modern, as in a 1955 photo of a geometric detail of the Howard Street Bridge and its interplay with its own shadow. Bodine also often manipulated his work in the darkroom. To create one gorgeous image, he double-printed two different photographs so that a lamplighter lighting a street lamp appeared to do so at the same moment as a woman—Bodine’s wife—stood silhouetted in a window behind him.
Bodine’s City is lovely to get lost in, not only for a Baltimore native, but especially for one. For every historical or abstract image, there is a photo of the city that reminds you of the beauty that lies just around the corner, if you have the eyes—as Bodine did—to see it.
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