Photographer Jim Burger looks back on Baltimore history


In his book, “What’s Not To Like? Words and Pictures of a Charmed Life,” lifelong photographer Jim Burger chronicles his life as a Baltimore resident and someone who’s chronicled Baltimore in all its forms: from sweeping skylines to devastating fires to the lives of mundane, ordinary people living in the city.

He recently held a book talk and signing at Beth Am Synagogue where he discussed the book, answered questions and autographed copies of the book available for sale at the event. A portion of the book sales went to the Beth Am Clergy Fund, benefiting the synagogue and its congregation.

In a conversation with the JT, Burger, who belongs to Beth Am, described the book as “a time capsule and love letter to Baltimore” — a summation of his 40-plus years working as a professional photographer in the area. The self-published memoir features a variety of photos ranging from his college thesis project to pictures he took for the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore City Paper.

A black-and-white photo of a fireman wiping sweat from his face
Jim Burger’s photos of Baltimore residents (Courtesy of Jim Burger)

Though not a lifelong Baltimore resident — he grew up in Pennsylvania — Burger fell in love with the city when he moved there to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1978. He initially planned to major in illustration, but quickly realized that photography was his true calling.

“It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Burger said about changing his major.
Before he graduated, Burger already had a thesis project under his belt: a collection of photos from time spent shadowing the Baltimore City Fire Department. He went on to become a photojournalist and now works as a freelance commercial photographer.

Burger noted that many of the pictures featured in “What’s Not To Like?” are relics of the past. A fair amount of the photos in his collection are of Baltimore landmarks that no longer exist, having been closed down or demolished. These include the old Baltimore fish market, for instance, as well as photos of the Wagner’s Point neighborhood. The latter eventually became so polluted that it had to be torn down.

Much of what he photographs is determined by his clients, but what Burger likes to photograph the most are people. Many of his photos feature average Baltimore residents going about their day and doing their jobs. He said the main reason he focuses on people is “because they’re so interesting.”

Burger captures subjects such as women at the salon, people eating at a diner and men reading the local paper.

Five elderly couples all kissing at once
Jim Burger’s photos of Baltimore residents (Courtesy of Jim Burger)

Burger said his favorite photograph is one with a more personal meaning to him: a picture of his parents from 1999. His father was on his deathbed at the time, but he and his mother are holding hands and laughing in the photo.

“He died only a couple days later,” Burger recalled.

Ultimately, the focus of his memoir is on the beauty of the city and its people, even if most do not stop to notice it. “Baltimore is such a treasure, and there’s so much to love about it,” Burger said. “And we as Baltimoreans sometimes lose sight of that.”

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