Doug Bruns

The Godfather of the Inner Harbor.

In Books, Life, Photography, The Examined Life on April 24, 2012 at 6:00 am

In 2007 I began a project that would engage me for a year and alter the way I view the world.

I was living in Baltimore. It was winter, and so cold that on the night of December 4th two men died of exposure on Pratt Street, a major downtown thoroughfare. Reading of their deaths in the morning paper, I wondered: how it is that people freeze to death in the country’s 9th largest city? I set out to understand.

Consequently, I spent a year photographing and interviewing men living on the street. The project came to be called The Gentlemen of Baltimore. Indeed, they were gentlemen. One at a time, over many months, I sought them out. They were kind and generous and intent on an earnestness that surprised me. They sat with me and allowed me take their photograph and they answered my questions. The project was exhibited on two occasions and I was invited to present before audiences interested in the nature of urban street existence. A portion of the effort–I did 100 interviews–became part of the permanent collection of the University of Maryland.

I chose to do the project straight up; that is, a simple headshot and a transcription. My questions likewise were simple: “How long have you been homeless?” “How did this happen?” “Do you have any family?”– and so forth. The quotes that accompany the portraits are verbatim.

I thought it might be of interest to occasionally share a story from the project. Allow me to introduce Lonnie.

Lonnie, aged 36

“They call me the Godfather of the Inner Harbor. I never leave the harbor, here twenty-four seven.” Lonnie was bright and articulate. He said he had a degree in psychology. “The [homeless] life-style itself is addictive. I have no responsibilities, no bills, no commitments. It’s the life I’ve chosen. It gives me time to do what I want. My main thing is books.” Lonnie said he pulls books out of the dumpster behind Barnes and Noble. “Reading is my drug of choice. It changes your mind, takes you other places, a different reality. And it’s legal!” He said he chose his homeless life and that it agreed with him. “That’s what this great country is all about. Choices. On the other hand, America is all about getting things. It’s about what you have in order to be somebody. But that’s all materialism and temporal. Until the time comes when I am no longer happy with what I do, I am happy. When that time comes, I’ll change.”

  1. That is so cool Doug! I recently made care bags for the homeless and gave them out to friends and family to distribute. Also coincidental, my post today is along the same lines! ~Sherry~

  2. Thanks, Sherry. Well then, we seem to be drinking from the same pond: travel, dogs and now this topic. Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate it.

  3. […] queued up a number of posts. Some are new, a few are re-posts, and a smattering are drawn from my Gentlemen of Baltimore project. I hope you enjoy the offerings. I don’t anticipate updating …house… […]

  4. […] promised previously, here is another story from my project, The Gentlemen of Baltimore. Nyster, age: 44 Nyster had a […]

  5. […] my friends at …the house…. In the mean time, one last prepared post, another story from The Gentlemen of Baltimore. Flynn Flynn sat on a bench in the shade. There was a book next to him, The city Boy. “It was […]

  6. […] story from my 2005/06 project on homelessness in Baltimore. I heard a lot of tales, tall and otherwise, while doing this project. Mohammad’s was one of […]

  7. […] the Gentlemen of Baltimore project, Wayne, age: 45 Wayne noticed my camera, a Leica. “Good camera,” he said. […]

  8. […] since February, grinding through 100 Gentlemen of Baltimore, the book project I have set upon, a collection of 100 portraits and interviews with men living on […]

  9. […] story from my project on homelessness, The Gentlemen of Baltimore. Dave said he had been homeless on and off for seven years. “I used to do a lot of hard […]

  10. […] Apparently she is a woman of means, or perhaps a woman of no means, like my homeless friend Lonnie. Her’s is a case of the extreme in one direction or the other. Regardless, she apparently […]

  11. […] profile from The Gentlemen of Baltmore. Kevin had a nice smile. He was a handsome man. He had been in prison for ten years and has been […]

  12. […] was the first man I interviewed when I began the project. I remember being apprehensive and cautious. Warren addressed me as Sir, was polite and […]

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