A. Aubrey Bodine

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Hear the story of A. Aubrey Bodine the celebrated photographer, whose daughter sells his work from her home in Denton. The late Baltimore Sun photographer never lived here but he spent a great deal of time here documenting watermen and the way of life on the Eastern Shore.

A few weeks ago I visited Jennifer Bodine, the daughter of A. Aubrey Bodine the celebrated Maryland photographer of mid the 20th Century. Her home is nestled along the Choptank River in Denton, Maryland. It here that she maintains a family business and a legacy caring for the work of her father.

Here is Jennifer Bodine to tell us about his life and work.

"My father was the late A. Aubrey Bodine. He was a world famous photographer from Baltimore. He was photographer for the Baltimore Sunday Sun. He was a feature photographer. He exhibited his work all over the world. And, the pictures he put out on exhibition were assignment shots: the pictures he took while on assignment."

"I would say that about one third of his pictures were maritime. And that would be the Chesapeake Bay and all its tributaries. I remember as a kid he would spend a lot of time, we would refer to it as "Pop-Pop is going to the country." He would go away for several days. And he would go to Western Maryland or to the Eastern Shore. Just looking at his photography, so much of it is from the Eastern Shore. Ah, he was a big fan of the watermen, in particular, and enjoyed going out on boats with them and talking to them and learning about the community."

"Um, he was fearless when it came to heights and climbing into very difficult spots. You see he had no hesitation. We have website,, and there is a bridge construction under one of the categories. And, if you look at those pictures and where he had to be standing, or wherever, when he took those pictures, he was climbing right up there with the steelworkers. For a man who could not swim, yeah… If he had gone over the side at any number of times… And again, you look at these pictures, particularly the maritime pictures… In fact his most famous "Choptank Oyster Dredgers" was taken during a Nor'easter. And, he was out on the Skipjack with a large format five by seven camera, balancing himself while everything is whipping around taking the picture, which turned out to be a world famous picture."

"He went to work at the Sun when he was fourteen. He came from a poor family, went to work at fourteen. And, there is a book by Malcolm Gladwell, called "The Outliers", and it talks about what makes people great at what they do, and one of the things is luck. And, while it wasn't particularly lucky that he was from a poor family or that he had to quit school when he was fourteen, but he went to work at the Sun and was physically located on the same floor with the photography department. And, the proximity… Now we are talking about the 20's. These were commercial photographers. It was to them - art. They just had to do it. It was just a job. Back then photographs were made with glass plates. You needed an assistant. You needed someone to carry stuff. And he was the carry guy."

"He was a good friend of H.L. Menken. Menken was twenty-five years older than he so it was more like a father son type of thing. And, Menken was on the board f directors. And, Menken was a strong believer that the artist, the writer owns the material. And that also allowed them to pay them very little, because hey, you're getting' the side money. If we had lived on the Sun salary we would have lived in public housing. Uh, but he had the side work. You know, he had books. He had licensing, and the like. He had some contracts. He did for example did the modern pictures for the American Railway when they had their centennial in 1950."

"One thing about him, no story was ever beneath him: the great A. Aubrey Bodine sent out to take a picture of a pile of junk. Well, there is art in junk. "It's my job." And, he has said this. "It's the job of the photographer to fine the best shot from which to take the picture."

"What advice would you give budding photographer?" he would be asked. And he would say: "Go out in the worst weather imaginable." Oh, I want to do that! His most import tool besides his camera was his alarm clock. And he would get up at three or four o'clock in the morning to meet people in duck blinds. No weather… To him nos snow storm should be wasted."

"One time he took me out to take pictures of snow. And I am talking snow. I am holding light equipment straight up to the sky. Snow is pouring down my neck. I'm crying. He doesn't care. We're out there for like an hour and a half. I am soaking wet. I mean, the man is just in his glory. [laughs]"

"As someone described his work, his negatives were the score and the prints were the symphony. I think that very aptly describes his work because he was a master of the darkroom. He won the honorary fellowship for the National Press Photographers Association. He also bagged the honorary fellowship of the Photographic Society of America. Two major photography organizations of the mid 20th century; and he won the top award from both: the first to have done that. And he had a solo exhibition also, in 65, a one man exhibition in Russia. Anyway, Bodine's work travel on a circuit around the Soviet Union. And, he was the first in 1965 to be the first solo exhibitor in the Soviet Union since the Revolution back to 1917. I'd read that Ansel Adams had the first solo, but that was 1972. You know, I have documentation that Bodine's was 1965."

"I am the keeper of the flame and if I don't do it nobody will. I mean, now I am his only spokesman. I hope he doesn't mind. [laughs]."