Lemuel Wilson, 54, longtime West Baltimore photographer

June 07, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Lemuel Wilson never had the words to communicate with others -- he let his photographs speak for him. His pictures were of families, of togetherness, of life and the way he felt it should be.

The scores of snapshots he clicked every month were his "feelings from the heart," and depicted everyday people doing everyday things -- shopping, walking, gathering in the park, working, riding the bus, said a brother, Warren Wilson of Baltimore.

Lemuel Wilson, 54, who died Monday of a heart attack at his home in West Baltimore, never wanted pictures of people posing or looking unnatural, although he occasionally photographed weddings and family gatherings.

"He just liked life shots," his brother said. "He'd get people walking down the street as they were, and the pictures would always come out good. He liked things that were normal to families and were good for family life."

Mr. Wilson, who was deaf and mute, learned photography in the 1950s while in his teens. His brother was a camera buff, and Mr. Wilson learned the basics by watching him.

Then he took what he saw to another level.

"He used to always take that camera and shoot pictures of things he saw," Warren Wilson said. "He had a good eye for what would make a good picture, but mainly he just shot pictures of everything he saw. He communicated from the heart."

Mr. Wilson lived in the same narrow rowhouse on Herbert Street his entire life, the last 10 years alone. He did not finish high school. He told his mother that school wasn't interesting. It had nothing to do with his disabilities. School wasn't challenging enough, and he just wanted to shoot pictures, he told her.

"He told my mother that there was nothing wrong with him and that he didn't want to go to school anymore," Warren Wilson said.

Mr. Wilson got an assortment of inexpensive cameras and began snapping pictures that he sold to his subjects. He also made money photographing weddings, funerals, parties and family reunions.

Every day he arose early and just walked and shot. "He'd walk from the west to east and back with that camera," said his sister, Cynthia Thomas of Baltimore. "Downtown, the harbor, up Mondawmin, he'd walk all over the place shooting pictures.

"He had a gift that could only come from God. Sometimes he didn't even charge for the pictures, or only enough so he could buy more film for more pictures. Even when he was at his sickest, you'd still see him with that camera."

When he was hospitalized several weeks before his death, Mr. Wilson shot pictures of the nurses and other patients.

"He thought those would be good pictures," Ms. Thomas said. "His house was full of stacks of old pictures that he took and liked. I remember him out there in all of that deep snow shooting pictures, as cold as it was."

Also surviving are his mother, Lillian Wilson; and another brother, James Wilson, both of Baltimore.

Services will be at 7 p.m. today at St. Paul Institutional Baptist Church, 2010 W. North Ave.

Pub Date: 6/07/96

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