Ohio Wesleyan alumnus and award-winning photographer John Clark Mayden ’74 discusses his ‘Baltimore Lives’ art exhibit with OWU students from an Afro-American History course. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

Learning What You Don’t Know

Photographer John Clark Mayden ’74 Shares Life Lessons with Ohio Wesleyan Students

By Sarah Jonassen ’22

Award-winning photographer John Clark Mayden ’74 emphasized the importance of learning what you don’t know in a meeting with Ohio Wesleyan University students in Dawn Chisebe’s Afro-American History course.

“When I came to Ohio Wesleyan, I already knew who I was. I knew my subject, my blackness,” Mayden said during the recent campus visit. “What I didn’t know was the technical aspects of photography, such as composition, which I learned here. What I discovered at OWU was to seek out what I didn’t know and learn it.”

Depicting Black Lives

Photographer John Clark Mayden ’74 documented the lives of Black Baltimore residents for more than 40 years for his award-winning book. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

Mayden returned to his alma mater to wrap up his fall photography exhibition, “Baltimore Lives,” at OWU’s Richard M. Ross Art Museum. The photos depict the everyday lives of African Americans in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, between 1970 and 2012.

The photographs also are featured in his 2019 book, “Baltimore Lives: The Portraits of John Clark Mayden,” a 2019 Foreword INDIES Reviews photography award-winner, and can be seen in the 2020 HBO film “Between the World and Me,” based on the Ta-Nehisi Coates book of the same name.

Mayden’s photographs have a special focus on mundane activities and acts of resistance. Many photos feature areas where he grew up, such as historic Pennsylvania Avenue, a hub of African American culture in the late 1960s.

Providing ‘a More Tangible Reality’

“Mr. Mayden’s work intersects with what our students are learning about Black history in ways that bring the words in their history books to a more tangible reality, which is what we strive for in the classroom,” said faculty member Chisebe, who also serves as OWU’s chief diversity officer.

“To have John Clark Mayden talk the students through his creative process and his life was an experience that also shares with students the process of designing art and how one's life can inform the ways that individuals choose to create and share their art with the world,” Chisebe said.

Fostering a Love of Photography 

Mayden began his career interning for a photographer at WMAR-TV in his teens. He fostered his love of photography during his years at Ohio Wesleyan, where he worked as a photographer for the Public Relations Department and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Fine Arts.

Mayden thanked retired Fine Arts professor Marty Kalb for attending the event and serving as his mentor at OWU.

The in-person exhibit is now closed, but it’s not too late to see it. The Ross Art Museum offers a free virtual 3D tour of “Baltimore Lives” online.