Monday, March 14, 2011

I LOVE this Billboard!

    from a photographer's notebook...

Mr. Boh proposes to Miss Utz   ©2011 Steve Ember

Disclaimer: I have no commercial connection with Smyth Jewelers, but I could not stop smiling when I saw this billboard!  If you are from Baltimore, or have any knowledge of the city, I’ll bet it makes you smile as well.

I grew up in Baltimore, before moving to Washington to pursue my broadcasting career. 

Unlike some cities with large transient segments in their populations, Baltimore does not forget its roots and traditions.  It embraces them.

And this sign simply and at the same time, eloquently, “marries” two of those traditions: Natty-Boh (that’s National Bohemian Beer, for the uninitiated) and Utz Potato Chips.

For as long as I can remember - and that goes back to childhood - Mr. Boh, the one-eyed, mustachioed, hair-parted-down-the middle, trademark of National Bohemian, represented the beer in TV commercials (some of which were nothing short of brilliant in celebrating “The Land of Pleasant Living” - he made a damn fine troubadour -  see below!), print ads, and, most certainly, neon signs adorning the city’s neighborhood taverns and package goods stores.

Another fondly remembered trademark in Baltimore was the Utz Potato Chips Girl, with her wide eyes, the big bow in her hair, and her hand (where else?) in a bag of Utz potato chips.

Thus, what a stroke of genius to add the stick figure and diamond ring to Mr. Boh, as he proposes to “Miss Utz,” to represent Baltimore, tradition, and love in one simple, eloquent statement. Bravo, Smyth and your ad agency!

So, how did I come to see – and shoot – this smile-maker of a billboard?

Earlier this month, I produced a program on my old home town for the Voice of America’s English teaching service (known both as VOA Special English and VOA Learning English). It was a lovely experience, as well as wicked good fun, as I was also asked to do a lesson in “Bawlmerese,” a unique dialect spoken (to greater or lesser extent) by many Baltimoreans. 

But another wonderful part of this project was being asked to illustrate the program’s web pages with my photos of Baltimore, taken over several decades, as well as producing a slide show.  

The “sidebar” feature, “An Extended Lesson in Bawlmerese” was illustrated by my editor, who put up some of the photos I hadn’t used in the slide show.  I decided there needed to be some more “specific” photos illustrating some of the Baltimore places and institutions of which I spoke, so I planned another trip over there yesterday to shoot such images. 

Prominent on my shooting list were Baltimore’s row houses and marble steps.  But a recent Baltimore shoot to capture the Inner Harbor at twilight, seen at the top of the VOA story and here, combined with the excitement I felt in turning up, for that presentation, several slides I’d taken in my earliest years behind a camera, reawakened my interest in capturing more of the rich urban tapestry of my old stompin’ grounds.

A serendipitous juxtaposition ©Steve Ember
And, as I had great fun in mentioning Natty-Boh, both as a Baltimore tradition and in examples of the distinctive “O” sound heard in full-out Bawlmerese, I absolutely had to include a photo of the beer’s longtime print and TV “spokesman,” Mr. Boh.  And that meant including Brewer’s Hill (site of the erstwhile National Brewing Company – the beer is now brewed elsewhere, but remains a Balto tradition, alongside of steamed crabs!). Brewer’s Hill is located in East Baltimore’s Canton, and the plan was to hit that neighborhood sometime after dark, to shoot the Natty Boh Tower and – of course – the big red neon sign of…Mr. Boh, looking out over the city that loves him.

But that left a lot of shooting to be done in daylight.  And the perfect sunny afternoon conditions  made for some great photo opportunities.

After shooting in Druid Hill Park and then capturing some brightly colored row houses nearby, along with those marble steps, the next destination was the old Mount Royal Station to capture the tall clock tower mentioned in the “Extended Bawlmerese Lesson.”

©2011 Steve Ember
Mount Royal station was, in my early years, the uptown terminus for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s premiere passenger trains to New York, Washington, Chicago, and other destinations. It’s now a part of the Maryland Institute College of Art.  But passenger train service is alive and well over at the Pennsylvania Station, just across town, and that’s where we headed so I could photo illustrate my references to “llaocaomaotives” as an example of both the Bawlmerese guttural L and diphthonged O.

We parked on North Charles Street, just across from this impressive Beaux-Arts terminal, serving both Amtrak and the regional MARC Rail, as well as Baltimore's Light Rail system  No sooner had we gotten out of the car than we spotted the sign, just north of the station. The fence in the foreground is along the bridge that carries Charles Street over the tracks leading into Penn Station.

I’ll show you some more Baltimore scenes, or provide links to them, soon.  But for now, I just wanted to share this simple but eloquent statement of a cherished bit of Baltimore.

Ciao, Hons.

©2011 Steve Ember

And with sincere thanks to the guys at Atomic TV, I offer you...

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