DENTON — The word “iconic” is overused these days, but there’s no getting around it: The photographs of A. Aubrey Bodine are indeed iconic images of Maryland — its waterways, its industries, its landscapes and its people.
Born in 1906, the prolific, award-winning photojournalist chronicled life in the Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region during his 50-year career for the Baltimore Sun newspaper and as a freelance pictorialist, exhibiting his work in worldwide competitions.
Since 2000, Jennifer Bodine and her husband of 40 years, Richard Orban, both 71, have combined their own talent and experiences to curate and share her father’s legacy of hard work and artistic vision that produced thousands of black-and-white prints. “He was a one-trick pony — it was a helluva trick, but it was one trick,” Jennifer Bodine said.
The couple lives on the Choptank River near Denton in a home dappled with a rainbow of colors produced from Jennifer Bodine’s stained glass art.
The only child of A. Aubrey Bodine and his wife Nancy, Jennifer Beatty Bodine is petite and irreverent. She seems anchored to life on coiled springs and sprinkles her reminiscences with witty — and often sarcastic — quips and bursts of laughter. Regarding her father’s first name: “What mother would do that? Aldine Bodine. It well-defined the relationship between the two, methinks.”
Jennifer has scanned and annotated at least “10,000 pieces of paper … 8-by-10s and 11-by-14s. About 2,500 are the ‘exhibitions,’ 16-by-20s that Bodine sent out all over the world to compete,” she said. ”The photos were developed by different processes. The 11-by-14s and 8-by-10s were straight-up silver gelatin prints which were used for the Sun, for books, for licensing or for gifts.”
The couple created the website AAubreyBodine.com as a venue for telling Bodine’s remarkable success story and for making his photographs widely available. Bodine vintage originals, reproduction prints in various sizes, notecards and books are all for sale at the website maintained by Orban, a tall, laid-back computer programmer who grew up in Federalsburg as the grandson of well-known baker Frank Zaffere, and son of longtime Talbot County math teacher Agnes Zaffere Orban and commercial photographer John Orban.
It was his experience in his own father’s darkroom that led to Richard’s six-year stint as student photojournalist for Easton High School’s monthly newspaper, The Eastonian.
“It’s worked out very conveniently because I did enough work in the darkroom to appreciate what Bodine did,” Orban said. “He was a master in the darkroom — just beyond the pale. He was doing Photoshop-type stuff — multiple images, compositing, moving things in the images, creating an image rather than just taking a shot. He created a photograph; he didn’t just take a photograph.”
“And so I was very aware of this when we started this business, and it’s been very interesting to work with his images, because it’s a real joy to see — the images are just gorgeous — what his artistic vision was and his execution on that vision,” Orban said. “And he won lots of awards. I’m talking about thousands of awards in competition around the world.”
Jennifer Bodine is a lawyer and certificated teacher, as well as an artist and entrepreneur. She just completed her fifth art book of her father’s prints called “Bodine’s Horses.” Her other collections are “Bodine’s Trains,” “Bodine’s Industry,” “Bodine’s City” and “Bodine’s Chesapeake Bay Country,” all published by Schiffer Publishing in Atglen, Pa.
“Bodine’s work spoke to (many people). It’s very human work, I think,” Bodine said. “You know, he saw beauty in everything that he did. For his jobs, it didn’t matter where he was sent. If he was sent to a junkyard, that’s fine. If he was sent to a horse race, that’s fine. Apparently, the only thing he was not good with … (was) doing shoots with children. He wasn’t kid-oriented in any way, shape or form.”
“Well, he was pretty adult by the time he was 16,” Orban said.
“He was adult at 14,” Jennifer Bodine said. “He quit school and left home, and moved to Baltimore and got a job at the Sun when he was 14. That’s the incredible part of his story.”
Alluding to Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” Jennifer Bodine believes that accomplished people put in “10,000 hours (with) God-given talent and luck,” she said. “He didn’t get a job at the the Sun because (he wanted) to work on a newspaper. He got a job to get a job. He could just as easily have gotten a job at Sparrows Point. Instead, he went to the Sun papers and was physically located on the same floor with the photographers and the darkroom. So just by dint of geography — I mean, he could have been down in the pressroom or someplace else.”
“He was just a go-fer. He was running stuff between different floors of the building, and eventually got an opportunity to work with photography,” Orban said.
“The photographers came in and didn’t give a s**t about (developing film), so he said, ‘I’ll do it, I’ll do it.’” Bodine said.
“So he grabbed it, and did the processing and learned photography,” Orban added.
“With a commercial darkroom,” Jennifer Bodine continued. “And in the 1920s, even if you were rich, would you have a darkroom? I mean, would you even know how to put one together? But he had this darkroom all to himself pretty much, because these guys didn’t care. They just had to take a picture with the story and bring it in. You know, ‘Let the kid do it.’ And so he was moved into the commercial art department at 18 and was helping out the (one) commercial photographer. They used glass plates, so the photographer really had to have an assistant to haul all the junk. So he had that jobb and he was doing side work for himself. That’s when he started entering ... exhibitions and was very successful right from jump-street.”
“So then, the ironies of ironies: the feature photographer — again (they) only had one on the Sunday Sun — had rigged a photograph of a wild turkey; he tied the leg of the turkey to keep it in the frame and somebody could see the string, and a brouhaha happened and the guy got fired,” Jennifer Bodine said. “And the greatest faker of all that they had got his job. And he was 21, and it was the job he had literally until the day he died. He had a stroke in his darkroom.” Bodine was only 64 years old.
“He was singularly focused on photography,” Orban added. “He just thought about it all the time.”
A. Aubrey Bodine was able to showcase his artistic photos in the Sunday Sun Magazine. Created in 1946, the sepia-colored magazine was commonly known as the Brown Section. “(It) was like a poor man’s art gallery,” Orban said. “It would be 50 or 60 pages every week. I mean, that was the golden age of newspapers. The Baltimore Sun was right up there with the New York Times and the LA Times.”
Remarkably, the photojournalist owned the copyright to all his prints thanks to the legendary Sun journalist H.L. Mencken, who sat on the Sun’s board and “was a believer that an artist should own their own stuff,” Jennifer Bodine said. “He also wanted to keep the expenses of the Sun papers down, and my father was paid s**t. I mean, we lived in public housing. My father made $200 a week in 1971.”
Remaining focused on her father’s name and work drives Jennifer Bodine. She gives lectures on his work and is under contract to write “the long history of A. Aubrey Bodine,” she said with a sigh. “That is going to be the magnum opus. It’s going to be a tough one to write.”
A. Aubrey Bodine’s gift for visual artistry lives on in his daughter and granddaughter. While Jennifer Bodine herself is an accomplished artist in stained glass, Bodine Alexander Orban Boling has made a name for herself as a writer, actress and acclaimed filmmaker in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, cinematographer Alexis Boling.
Orban said their daughter gets her artistic talent “probably from her grandfather Bodine.” Jennifer Bodine thinks it’s hereditary, too, alluding again to “Outliers.” “Great people have 10,000 hours (invested) in what they’re great at, they have God-given talentb and they have luck,” she said.
You can learn more about A. Aubrey Bodine’s career and purchase your own “Bodine” at AAubrey Bodine.com.