Unscripted Moments The Life and Photography of Joseph Kohl

Unscripted Moments: The Life & Photography of Joseph Kohl from Maryland Historical Society on Vimeo.


On November 9, 2017, the Maryland Historical Society opened Unscripted Moments: The Life & Photography of Joseph Kohl, a show that celebrates the life and work of the titular photojournalist and fine art photographer whose life was cut short by leukemia in 2002.

The installation features photographs taken by Kohl from 1980 through 2002 which reflect the underground culture present in Baltimore. 


Born in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, but raised in Odenton, Maryland, Kohl graduated from Arundel High School in Gambrills. While still a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, he began working in photojournalism as an intern at The Baltimore Sun before graduating with a degree in Fine Arts. After college, outside of his professional work with a plethora of diverse publications, Kohl produced a record of Baltimore’s bohemian culture that aligned with his own social life and personal curiosities. These curiosities extended to the city’s erotic sub-communities, small-venue rock concerts, and queer nightlife. Throughout the Unscripted Moments exhibition, we have the opportunity to explore life in Baltimore through the eyes of a prolific photographer: Joseph Kohl. 


Kohl contributed photos to the News American, City Paper, Afro-American, Village Voice, Catholic Review, Easy Rider, and countless other publications near and far. The last few years of his life were spent as a staff photographer at the Baltimore Business Journal. What many love and respect about Kohl is the fact that his work shows that he connected with people and respected his subjects regardless of their place in society. He especially connected with marginalized communities. Longtime friend and contemporary photographer, Linda Day Clark recounts that “[people would] warm up to him and allow him to do his thing in the sense of trust. And he really worked at engaging certain communities. He was known on the Block, he was known with groups of transsexuals, who trusted him and knew that they were safe with him...he had a sort of special access. I don’t think anybody can just walk in and photograph the way that Joe did and have it be OK.” 


Although cut short, one of Joseph Kohl’s goals was to leave a body of work behind. This is a goal that Kohl ultimately accomplished. The Maryland Historical Society alone has 55,000 pieces of work in possession, and of this work, the Unscripted Moments exhibition was given life.