Baltimore is a big city with a small town feel. The 57 bus driver and I are on a first name basis, I still see the famous running man trotting around and my old YMCA instructor lives next to my best friend.


I was a pipe fitter for a chemical plant for 30 years, retired and got sick of sitting at home. (Photo credit: Close Up Baltimore)

Baltimore locals will most likely see some familiar faces on “Close Up Baltimore,” a photography project on Facebook started in response to the events of April. In an interview with The AFRO, Joe Rubino, the creator of CUB, explained the ins and outs of his work, which showcases a single photograph of an individual with a few sentences about their life.

“Close Up Baltimore is a project that was inspired by “Humans of New York” . In April, I was contacted by the Strauss Foundation,” Rubino said.

“It said ‘Everyone in America thinks Baltimore is a city that’s on fire. So, would you be willing to walk around the city, taking photos of regular people doing regular things?’”

The riots that erupted towards the end of April set Baltimore ablaze but with more than just fire. It seemed that amid all the chaos and frustration, flowers bloomed in the midst of smoke. Many creative works and fascinating projects came out of the violence–including Close Up Baltimore.

“The idea was to get as wide of a range of people and geographical spread as I could. We just needed to show how many different kinds of people there are in the city and what they are doing.”

I have a huge family. My grandma had 12 kids. They’re all alive. My mom dropped out of school at 15 to have me. (Photo credit: Close Up Baltimore)

To date, almost 200 photographs are online. Rubino crisscrossed over 28 neighborhoods–including Sandtown–and the process expanded his view of the city.

“I think the thing is that I live up here and there are parts of the city I’ve never travelled to,” he said “It was shocking as far as the depravation goes in some of these neighborhoods, the physical conditions in some of them.”

“I went to Sandtown and I wasn’t sure if I would be okay. I thought people would be looking at me. I’m this white guy with a camera wondering ‘Why am I doing that?’,” he said.

People are “surprisingly open” to being photographed and saying a few words about their lives.

“When I started the project, I really thought half the people I asked would say no,” he said. “I’ve had people say no but I haven’t had any angry or nasty people that have been offended by it.”

“I’ve been shocked by the things they tell me, they are very personal things,” he said.

I owned my own restaurant. I had cancer. My insurance only covered 45% of the bills, so I had to sell everything. (Photo credit: Close Up Baltimore)

There have been some stories from people that have stuck with Rubino.

“One was a young woman in Hampden and she was a well dressed, professional woman probably under 30. I was just talking to her about her life when out of the blue she told me she was a two-time rape survivor,” he said. “As a result of this, she had been hospitalized and diagnosed with PTSD and dissociation.”

“She had some tattoos on her and she said the reason she had them on her body was if she could cover herself in beautiful things, it was a way of reclaiming her body,” he said.

The range of emotions throughout Rubino’s work cataloging Baltimore’s citizens have helped make it a small success as well as remind people that we are just trying to stay afloat. It not only plays on a person’s perspective but also the immediate judgments we tend to make before getting to know someone.

“I think it’s interesting to look at someone’s picture, make a snap judgment about who they, what they do and then read about them. find out that they are totally different from your judgment,” he said.

Joe Rubino’s work can be seen on Facebook. Search ‘Close Up Baltimore’ or at