John Clark Mayden is dedicating his time at Light Work to printing his black-and-white images of city life in Baltimore, MD. Mayden’s images capture, in his words, “the realities of black people living in low income cities.” His work depicts the wide range of experiences found in inner city life, from good times and joy to drugs, misery, social injustice, and crime. Mayden feels that photographers are put in the unique position to record life as they see it, and that they should maintain the skills of documentation, composition, and printing so that future generations can see accurate pictures of life during a certain time, in a certain place. He has used photography his whole life to address social injustices, and has worked frequently with organizations whose mission is to serve low income communities, families, and children.
Mayden has worked in Baltimore’s Law Department for twenty-six years. He obtained his BA from Ohio Wesleyan University and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Baltimore School of Law. His photographs have been exhibited nationwide, and are featured in permanent collections at Baltimore Museum of Art and Ohio Wesleyan University, among others.
John Clark Mayden was born and raised in Baltimore, MD, where he currently works as a city attorney. As a loyal son of Baltimore, he is also involved in the church and local politics. His true passion, however, is photography. He understands the traditions of his medium and delights in its possibilities. Like many of the best street photographers, Mayden stays close to home when he makes his pictures, all of which convey his deep knowledge of, and affection for, his city and its citizens. In particular, he focuses on the everyday events in the lives of his African American neighbors.
Mayden has always walked through life fulfilling myriad responsibilities. However, I believe he thinks constantly about making photographs and about pushing his work in new directions, hoping that he will record his subjects in a more meaningful way. Mayden also thinks about printing his negatives with the kind of passion that one involved with digital photography may not feel. He loves to get his hands wet in the darkroom, and he loves to discover a new kind of printing paper, which, for him, is like finding a new friend with whom he can have a fresh conversation. I mention this because the analog photographer is probably a dying breed, as is the man who cares so terribly much about his place and his community.
I must now confess that John Mayden was my roommate in New York City, where we worked as interns in 1973. Mayden worked at the Midtown Y Gallery, and I worked at LIGHT Gallery. We worked hard during the day, and we worked hard at night. Sleep was at a premium, and I liked to have a clear path from the bathroom to my pillow, where, if undeterred, I could fall asleep instantly. My only obstacle was the dialogue that Mayden insisted on having every night about photography. I would lapse in and out of our (one-sided) conversations only to hear, “Are you asleep again?” The point is that Mayden would rather talk about photography than sleep.
When Mayden and I decided to get together, decades later, to resume the dialogue (thankfully during the daytime), he began sending boxes of prints for me to look through. The inventory piled up, and I sought to sort it out before it took over the back room of our gallery. I would lay the photographs out on the floor of the gallery’s viewing room, as that was the best way to see them clearly. I would arrange them by subject or type and would try to eliminate those that did not contribute to the whole. With each shipment from Mayden, the groups would be edited, making the portfolio tighter and stronger. After several years and countless shipments and edits, what we had looked very good. Mayden was working hard, alone in
Baltimore, and it became clear that he would benefit from working in an environment that would encourage dialogue and camaraderie. Being over fifty and having a demanding day job can make working in the darkroom at night a lonely endeavor. Mayden had been working in such a vacuum, and it was time for him to work with the benefit of additional resources.
One day, my dear friend John Szarkowski came in and saw eighty to ninety of Mayden’s pictures on the floor of our viewing room. We looked at them and quickly had a meeting of the minds as to how we might help this earnest, ambitious, and dedicated photographer: Light Work. John and I had known about the place for thirty years and about the countless good things that happened up in Syracuse that helped shape our medium and support its artists. As well, a number of the artists we had represented or do represent have benefited from the support of Light Work.
There is probably no place like it. There is certainly no place that has been doing what it does so well for so long. John and I thought that if Mayden could get a residency, he would grow. I am pleased for my good friend that he did get the opportunity to spend time at Light Work, and I am particularly pleased that he benefited from his time there so mightily.
John Clark Mayden has used photography to address social injustices and has worked frequently with organizations whose mission is to serve low income communities, families, and children. Mayden participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program in April 2008.
Peter MacGill is president of Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York City.