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January 27, 2010

Documenting city's memorial graffiti

DISCLAIMER: Some of the photos contained within the link contain explicit language.  

In 1999, Peter Barry began documenting the memorial graffiti he was seeing throughout Baltimore while roaming the city streets.

"Troy was my first, across the street from the Sugar Hill Tavern on Druid Hill Avenue in 'Whitelock City,'" Barry told me. "I asked people, 'You know what R.I.P. means?' 'It's on tombstones!' they said."

"I started to record the images because I felt people were not aware of the scale of the graffiti citywide. I wanted to show the amount, the connection."

With a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, he bought film and scanned images from all over the city. Tombstones, names, birth and death dates, liquor bottle and teddy bear altars, short messages that he calls "utterances" ("Solider from cradle to the grave," "Death before dishonor," for example). He took before and after pictures, of the graffiti tags and attempts to cover them up. One of the photos was taken at a gathering following the 2002 firebombing of the Dawson house - the graffiti was in full view of a ceremony that involved community leaders and elected officials.

 One of the most striking to me, besides some of the messages left on the sides of buildings, was a collection of empty bottles of malt liquor. There must have been hundreds.

Barry said he wrote a note to himself in 2004 when he realized that many residents didn't even realize the graffiti was there: "We must hold the mirror up. There should be no bliss for those who choose to ignore."

"This is why I photograph, to tell stories," he said.

Click here to see Barry's slideshow of pictures. There's 72 in all.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 4:12 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Gangs


Sad, but amazing photos. Thank you, Peter, for bringing them to light.

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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