Seeing life on the real streets of Baltimore

July 04, 2011|By Emaun Kashfipour | Baltimore Sun reporter

For many people, when they think of Baltimore, they might imagine the crime-ridden streets that were practically a character in the HBO series, "The Wire." For others, the city can bring to mind more sanitized images of Ravens, Orioles or the Inner Harbor. But when Theodis Walkins thinks of his hometown, he sees people and uses pictures and videos to tell their story.

Walkins, 31, has lived in Baltimore his whole life. Having been raised by a single parent, he is well aware of the struggles that inner city residents go through every day. A couple of years ago, he decided to pick up his cameras and document what he knew. He felt that others, including the city's politicians, had no true idea about the plight of the neighborhoods and their people because they never came around.

He began to shoot, driving through neighborhood after neighborhood, occasionally stopping to talk to people about what's happening in their lives and how they could be better. The results are miniature vignettes of real life on Baltimore's gritty streets.

"I want to highlight a lot of impoverished communities and African American communities that you don't see on the news," said Walkins. "The only time you do see them on the news is if somebody gets shot or something like that."

Walkins, who's had run-ins with the law himself when he was younger, doesn't deny that such crimes exist. However, he believes that they are the product of other problems in society.

"If I couldn't get a job, I had to do illegal things to get what I had to get," he said. "There are a lot of people in that position."

Walkins called Baltimore "place of broken dreams" where normalcy for many of the city's residents has its own meaning.

"A normal life would be working to pay your bills and support your family," he said. "That's not even normalcy for people living in poverty and living in the ghettos."

Walkins said that a normal day for many of the Baltimore residents he grew up around is struggling to pay their bills, to stay out of jail, and to stay alive.

Walkins now runs his own small business, Professional Auto, where he buys and sells used vehicles. His work gives him the sense of stability and security he lacked when he was younger, he said. And it provides the opportunity for him to spend time on his side job, documenting life on the streets of Baltimore. He hopes that his work will elicit a positive response from politicians.

"(Politicians) don't really know what's going on," said Travis Carter, a friend of Walkins, who hopes the photos and videos shed some light on the conditions of the neighborhoods. "All them politicians... sittin' up there in city hall, they ain't really out here in the streets. We need help in all the hoods."

Walkins, who has never had any formal training in photography or videography learned to work with visuals by taking pictures of his family and friends.

"The same way I take [pictures of] my friends and family, I thought should do the whole city this way," he said.

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