Written by Ryan Lyons
It’s hard to capture Baltimore in just one lens. There’s been so many eyes on the city but few have been as consistent as Andrew Mangum in regards to the ever growing music scene and the city scape as well. In his shots there lies a sense of sincerity and purpose. You can feel the energy, excitement and love in Baltimore.
In our interview we were able to break down his day to day as a photographer and what inspires him.
Are you from Baltimore? What perspective does that give you as a photographer here?
I'm not originally from Baltimore. I've lived in Maryland my entire life though, with most of my childhood spent in P.G. County - Greenbelt to be exact. I now live in Baltimore County and a lot of my work is in the city. I have a great respect for the character of Baltimore. Nevertheless, I'm an outsider. So, naturally this gives me a completely blank slate to start from. I'm able to see things with a new eye, maybe capture details that are often overlooked. It can be hard as an outsider to break through that barrier and actually get to know people. It takes time, patience, and understanding. When I first started documenting Baltimore hip hop I would go to shows without a camera in my hand just to meet people. I went to a lot of shows from 2009-2011. Al Great, a well know rapper in Baltimore, still jokes about seeing me at every event. Back to my point, it takes time to get to know people, show them you are really there to tell their story. My passion is in people. I can see great things in everyone and I believe my photography will help spread hope to other people outside of Baltimore. Being an outsider gives me an interesting perspective - I had preconceived ideas of the city, developed from mainstream media, film, movies, ect, but now being a part of the people in the city on a regular basis helped me to break those preconceived ideas for other outsiders and show that positive things do happen in Baltimore. These positive actions are often overshadowed by the mainstream media's constant focus on the negative, pushing fear to drive up ratings. My passion is to spread hope through photography.
Film or digital? Why?
Both! I'm not hung up on one or the other. I'm mostly interested in the final image. Film is fun because I like being surprised by the final images. I carry an Olympus Stylus point and shoot everywhere I go and use it mostly as a visual journal. My favorite part is waiting months before developing the film and then reliving those moments as I scan the film into my computer. Digital is great because it allows me to save some money, shoot uninhibited, and with so much flexibility - I can shoot more creatively because I don't have to worry about maximizing 36 exposures. Plus, it's always a great relief to look at the image instantly and see that everything is in focus!
"My favorite part is waiting months before developing the film and then reliving those moments as I scan the film into my computer." - Andrew Mangum
What makes Baltimore such an interesting city to shoot?
The people! That also extends to the absence of people. In a lot of neighborhoods their are abandoned row homes. It's interesting to see what is left behind, or written in graffiti outside of the boarded up homes.
Any camera mishap stories?
Not really mishaps. But, there was a time where my camera was stolen from me, shooting in West Baltimore. I was new to the area, and didn't really keep my head on swivel like you should when out and about at night. I was naive enough to park in a dark alley and go back to my car to load some film, and change batteries out of my D90. As I was hunched over my tailgate someone came from behind and hit me upside the head and ripped the D90 off my shoulder. Before I knew what happened the person was way down the block. I told a few people and they said they would look out for the camera but it was gone. I was more upset about the images that were on the memory cards in that camera than the actual camera being gone. I can't replace those. The camera is replaceable. Not sure if that answers your question, but - that's all I got really! haha
What’s your favorite film to use? Why?
Kodak Tri-X 400. It's so dynamic! You can shoot at high ISO's with great flexibility, and at 400 the range of exposure is amazing. I could easily switch to shooting only Tri-X for the rest of my life and be happy!
Describe your taste in music?
Wow, that's a hard one. I'm not sure I have a specific taste, but I like music that makes you move, tells a story, and has soul. I like a lot of blues and soul! Howlin' Wolf, Millie Jackson, Roberta Flack, BB King, and Nina Simone to name a few. I think that is why I am drawn to hip-hop as well - there's a correlation between blues and hip-hop. It would be interesting to see what Jimi Hendrix would be making if still alive today. I can only imagine!
My first live concert was seeing James Brown and Chuck Brown at the 930 club in DC. That was in 2005. After that show I was hooked on seeing live music. The energy at a live show can never be replicated onto any recording - but if you think so, please prove me wrong. I would love to hear a recording that can give that kind of energy!
"I listen to people and then try to capture images that directly tell the story we talked about." - Andrew Mangum
What propels you to shoot?
People! I love to document stories. I like the mystery of people. Meeting someone new, sparking up a conversation, learning about them in this 5 minute exchange and taking their picture. You can tell so much about people within minutes of meeting them. It's fun to hear people talk about something they are interested in. I'm a good listener so I think this adds to the value of what I create. I listen to people and then try to capture images that directly tell the story we talked about.
2015 was a pivotal year for Baltimore. Can you explain how you felt as an inhabitant and a photographer?
Man, 2015 was a very impactful year. Baltimore was in a transitional period. I was happy to be a part of that transition. It was great to see my hip-hop work transform. I was watching the community shift and turn into a collaborative effort. People were coming together now, instead of working against each other. The last part of the project shows more healing than anything else. I'm grateful that I was able to be a part of this time in Baltimore's history.
Is there any music you like to listen to while shooting/editing? A favorite song you’ve been listening to lately?
A little of everything! I don't listen to much music while shooting (unless it's a live event), but when editing it depends on what I'm working on. A lot of times I put on Soundcloud and start listening to a project and then love to see what comes on after that project in the shuffle mode. That's usually how I come across new music. At the moment I'm listening to Uhlife - No Ebola. The music sounds how I want my images to look - if you know what I mean? I like that gritty air, where it becomes more about the feeling and emotion than anything else. That's real - and it's all I can hope for in my path of photography.