Rule Breakers: Amos Badertscher

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

Rule Setter: Daniel Cooney, Owner Daniel Cooney Fine Art
Rule Breaker: Amos Badertscher

I never want to see another photograph with handwriting on it again. It’s an old trick that usually indicates the photographer can’t get their point across visually. Out of frustration my students often resort to writing on their prints and I always suggest they try it again without the words: use photography as your language, it’s so much more interesting that way. Ultimately, they find it more rewarding.

A few years ago a colleague introduced me to the work of Amos Badertscher, a 68 year-old life long resident of Baltimore, Maryland. The black and white images of young hustlers and prostitutes from the Baltimore city streets are unlike anything I have seen before. They are raw and heart breaking, yet innocent and sometimes even humorous. They reveal trust and vulnerability as well as the dirty nastiness of young men and women on the street.

In addition to the oddly wonderful images there is lots of handwriting, sometimes on every bit of available negative space in and around the image. The script is shaky and uneven, sometimes difficult to read. The stories reveal the lives of the subjects and how the photographer understands them. The text outlines painful childhoods, addictions, prostitution, disease and other realities of the lives of his subjects, often just simple observations that speak volumes. 

Badertscher's work is about the need to be safe, to be comforted and to be loved, something every human on earth can understand. It's a story that is familiar yet unique, told by an artist and his muses in Baltimore, Maryland. In this case the addition of text collaborates with the image to make the whole fantastic story alluring and poignant. 

—Daniel Cooney

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