Life on the street, in Jack Eisenberg's photographs

Exhibit of his works opens at Beveled Edge

February 02, 2004|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Jack Eisenberg's photographs are scattered around his house like wayward pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. He's piled photographs in little stacks all over the dining room table, on the chairs, on the sideboard, on every flat surface, in fact.

He and Nancy Graboski sort through them like archaeologists assembling shards from a site rich in artifacts. They're putting the pictures together in themes for a survey of his work in a show that opens Wednesday at Graboski's gallery, the Beveled Edge, at 5909 Falls Road, with an adjunct exhibit at the Sylvan Beach Cafe, 7 W. Preston St., that opens Thursday.

Eisenberg's pictures capture fragments of time that pretty much make up a collage of his life. He's made images of his neighbors on Sulgrave Avenue in Mount Washington, of a barber in his shop in Waverly, kids on a South Baltimore stoop, wildlife on the Northern Central Railroad Trail, men at prayer in the Old City of Jerusalem outside the remnants of a 2,000-year-old synagogue, Palestinian Arabs in the Gaza Strip.

Eisenberg shot one of his earlier pictures in 1966 when he was taking a vacation in New Orleans from his job as a caseworker at the old Baltimore welfare department. Dock workers unload bales of rubber by hand from a ship at the New Orleans waterfront.

"What really got it all together was this ship began to smoke," he says. "At the time I was very inexperienced. As I probably still am, or at least feel."

The whole scene seems out of time, as if it were 1910.

"It sure does," Graboski says. "One thing with Jack, wherever he goes, he's got his camera. And you don't know when he's taking his shots."

They're looking at a photo of kids schmoozing on the front steps of a South Baltimore rowhouse before gentrification, perhaps to include it in a group of learning and teaching pictures.

"I just remember approaching this picture and trying to be so careful and polite because it looked so good," Eisenberg, 63, says. "And I got it."

The image has the look of a socially conscious documentary, something like the work of Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange. Eisenberg's own photography has deep roots in the street life of Baltimore.

"I do a very straight, traditional form of photography," he says. "It's basically street photography. I walk around with a camera. If something catches my eye, I photograph it."

He's traveled frequently to Israel and returned with a multitude of images. He and Graboski consider a picture of two elderly men, an Arab and a Jew deep in conversation on a Jerusalem bench, for inclusion in a group to be called "Friends." And he's proud of the photograph of kids playing outside the Jerusalem wall in twisted metal left after the Six-Day War.

He calls an image of a woman and her children on a stoop in Shields Place - an old alley behind Pennsylvania Avenue- his first good picture. Another picture he likes, from the 1970s, shows a woman and two kids eating crabs on Labor Day in a back yard in Remington.

"Jack does an incredible job of picking up the pulse of life wherever he goes," Graboski says.

He shoots most often with a classic 35 mm Leica camera, well-worn from years of use, but he also uses an almost equally worn Nikon and occasionally a Canon.

He admires the classic photographers, too, Robert Capa, Werner Bischof, David Seymour, Andre Kertesz, Robert Frank, Brassai, Richard Avedon, W. Eugene Smith, but perhaps most of all Henri Cartier-Bresson, the grand master of the decisive moment.

"I call it the epiphanal moment," he says. "It relies upon spontaneous discovery. You watch, you look and you discover. And you record - if you're lucky."

The exhibit at the Beveled Edge, 5909 Falls Road, Mount Washington, opens Wednesday. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Call: 410-435-1427.

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