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  • Writer's pictureEmily Garner

On the Job: A Weeklong Photo Assignment in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

We're hitting the road! Lucky Duck Photo got hired by Johns Hopkins University to take pictures of the campus, students and faculty, the city of Baltimore (once described to us as Detroit's older brother), and an apartment building to advertise the School of Education for potential international students. We loaded up the car and drove north to spend a week in the big city, experiencing and photographing all that Baltimore had to offer.

We arrived late on Monday night to meet with the project manager, Lisa, a Chinese woman with a 1 and a half year old baby daughter and currently living in Los Angeles. She, too, had travelled all the way to Baltimore to help us coordinate our photos with the goals of the marketing team in China. After wrapping up our meeting, we left to find our AirBnB and some dinner... at 11:00 p.m. We learned our first fun fact about Baltimore that night: everything is closed by 11:00 p.m. except McDonald's.

After grabbing a late dinner, we made our way to our lodgings, a large townhouse slightly uptown about two blocks from the sketchy part of Baltimore. The street itself was nice and the house was clean and was run like a miniature hotel with a kitchen and living room downstairs and three floors of rooms with private bathrooms. We found out later that the host didn't even own the building but rented it from another landlord for short term rental through AirBnB. Seems complicated, but apparently there is money to be made in it, or people wouldn't be doing it.

On our first day on the job, we woke up to snow flurries, lots of wind, and thirty degree weather to shoot the main campus of Johns Hopkins, which unfortunately required a lot of outside time. Luckily, the photo shoot was interspaced by some photos of building interiors where we could warm our hands (since Cody can't wear gloves to take pictures!). We got to see a lot of the campus which is not open to the public and learn a lot about the history of the school from our guide, Betsy, a nice lady who works for the School of Education who had an endless knowledge of fun historical tidbits.

Cody and I hit the town for dinner that night, checking out a new and hip restaurant called R House that was basically a fancy food quart with awesome bar. The winter cocktail menu was made up of drinks bearing names and inspiration from Home Alone, our favorite Christmas movie! The restaurant played host to aspiring chefs who want to run a restaurant but who do not necessarily have the backing or experience to open their own shop, yet. From Mongolian barbecue to pizza to Mediterranean food, R House had us walking in circles for about 15 minutes before we could decide where to eat (We are very indecisive). We settled for Mongolian barbecue, though to be honest, we enjoyed the atmosphere more than the food. With no televisions in the restaurant, we were able to talk to each other and look around the large, old garage and occasionally bother the bar tender for beer samples while deciding what to drink.

Day number two was a little bit warmer and sunnier. All that was on the agenda was to capture interesting and iconic sites around town, as well as some key locations that might be of interest to international students. Lisa kept us company for the first hour while we photographed Penn Station (Apparently Baltimore as well as New York have train stations bearing the name, but Baltimore's is way prettier!) and the outside of the Baltimore Art Museum. Then, we dropped Lisa off for a meeting, and we continued on our own. We went immediately back to the art museum to take pictures of the inside, which contained masterpieces from Rodin's The Thinker to paintings by Monet to prints by Andy Warhol. There were also rooms full of old China and silver tableware, ancient mosaics, and modern pieces so off the wall that you sometimes wonder if they even belong in a museum.

An hour later, we still had the entire rest of the city to capture, so we grabbed a quick pizza for lunch and buzzed around town in our little Volkswagon Golf. Parking in the city, we were very glad to have a small car! We went to the Inner Harbor to take pictures of boats on the docks in front of large high rises as well as pictures of the city from the boardwalk, including a large building housing a Barnes and Noble, Hard Rock Cafe, and Phillip's Seafood, which serves famous Baltimore crab cakes (another picture to capture on our shot list). We then drove around to the other side of the harbor to capture the city from the other side. Climbing a large, grassy hill with a cemetery on top, we found waiting for us an iconic Baltimore skyline over the harbor. Bingo. We continued photographing until the fading light put an end to our day.

For dinner tonight, we decided on a more local and less "new age" (in fact, it was quite the opposite of new age) pub called The Dizz. In what looked to be an old townhouse, the owners had built a long bar across the front, narrow room with dining area in the back and upstairs, complete with wood burning fireplace with real live burning logs. The cherry on top was the blinking, lit up stars that hung from every inch of the ceiling, upstairs and downstairs. The tables were covered in plastic table cloths with eclectic wall hangings from Barbara Streisand on the cover of Vogue to old British bar flyers advertising "American Whiskey." With burgers and beer and a sports game on the TV, we were just as happy and perhaps more comfortable than in the R House Restaurant the previous night.

Our final day on the job, we were in for a surprise. Lisa had spoken with the team in China, and we found out that we had to add another location to the shot list which was 20 minutes outside of town. After city traffic turned a three mile drive into an hour long extravaganza, we were on the job at 10:00 a.m. We drove to the Columbia Campus of Johns Hopkins where the School of Education has a second building mostly dedicated to research. We took interior photos of the facilities as well as a quick portrait of a professor. This time, we were guided around the building by the chief campus security officer, a retired Baltimore police officer, and we were treated to stories of how media and cell phones were ruining the youth of America and about hidden missiles developed by Johns Hopkins researchers that were hidden around the borders of the city.

After spending an hour in Columbia, we drove back into the city to photograph the Marylander apartment building, where many of the potential international students attending Johns Hopkins would be living. There, we encountered what could mildly be called a miscommunication. Even though Lisa had been in contact with the building and had made agreements with the owners about what was to be photographed, we were greeted with suspicion and rudeness. Once we were finally allowed to continue our work, we discovered that one of the rooms we were to photograph was not decorated at all and completely unsuitable for marketing material. We ended up borrowing props from a model room to spruce up the spare room, and Cody's wonderful photography skills were able to make the previous stark, hospital looking room look like a comforting and welcoming space that people would be excited to inhabit. After showing the photos to our guide, she was stunned and immediately asked if we were available to photograph her two young children! Unfortunately, we were returning to North Carolina the next day, so we gave her a card and told her we'd let her know the next time we were in town. By the time we finished shooting the lobby, laundry room, study room, and game room, we had been in the building for two hours. We were definitely glad we had decided to pay for parking rather than trying to get the job done quickly and hope our car wouldn't be noticed!

After the Marylander, it was straight to the main School of Education building, right on Charles Street, a main street of Baltimore that cuts through Johns Hopkins' campus. The front door was locked, and to get in without a student ID, we had to ring a doorbell which brought a security officer to the door who would not let us in until we had convinced her that we were indeed expected. We signed in our names and met Betsy again, who showed us around the old building, formerly a Catholic girls school and convent. As well as taking photos of the historic halls, stair cases, and stained glass windows, we also took pictures of students and teachers in class, after Betsy had everyone sign a release form consenting to have their photo taken and potentially used in publications.

As the light was growing dim, we finished in the building and hurried to grab a picture of a famous bust of Johns Hopkins. We then hopped over to the bookstore to take a few pictures of souvenirs and banners and for Lisa to do some shopping for her daughter, husband, and office. Starving and exhausted, we drove across town again to eat dinner at Phillips seafood (where Lisa treated us to dinner. Thanks, Lisa!) and grab one of the last photographs on our list: the crab cakes. They were delicious. We packed up the leftovers from dinner, said goodbye to Lisa, and drove to the airport to get our last photos of the assignment at the Baltimore International Airport, named after Thurgood Marshall. The night time pictures of the glowing airport and buses looked way better than any daytime pictures could have, which would have been filled with monotone colors of gray columns and white walls.

Then, at 10:00 p.m., we began our journey home, just as the rain began. And it rained the entire drive back to New Bern, North Carolina. We stopped a couple times at rest stops to take naps in the car and arrived in the morning back at home. It was quite a week and quite an adventure, but as always, we're glad to be home.

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