Skip to main content

Joseph Kohl photograph collection

Identifier: PP 0284


This collection contains photographs by Joseph Kohl, a photojournalist whose career spanned the 1980s to the early 2000s.

Please Note: The container list/inventory for this collection is available as a PDF below. Click "Expand All" and scroll down to the "External Documents" section to view.


  • 1980-2002


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical Note

Joseph Kohl (1957-2002) was a photographer whose professional career in Baltimore spanned from the early 1980s to his death in 2002. Kohl was born in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, raised in Odenton, Maryland, and 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. He went on to join the staff of The Baltimore News-American in 1981 and worked for a number of local publications as a freelance photographer, including the City Paper, the Baltimore Business Journal, the Baltimore Alternative, the Baltimore Messenger, the Bowie Star, the Carroll County Times, the Jeffersonian, the Laurel Leader, Mid-Atlantic Gay Life, the Towson Times, and several others. Many of his photos received national syndication. He also shot for a variety of commercial clients, from modeling agencies to law firms.

Outside of his professional work, Kohl produced a record of Baltimore’s bohemian culture that aligned with his own social life and personal curiosities, which extended to the city’s erotic sub communities, small-venue rock concerts, and queer nightlife. His work was exhibited at Maryland Art Place and School 33 and he identified himself not only with the trade of photography but with the community of artistic photographers in Baltimore. The photographer Carl Clark (1933-2015), who was Kohl’s closest friend at the time of his death, compared him to the famed New York City street photographer Arthur “Weegee” Fellig (1899-1968) for his eye for unusual people and refusal to denigrate them with his camera.

Kohl died of leukemia at age 44 in 2002.


63.70 Linear Feet (87 boxes)

Language of Materials



The photographs in this collection are arranged into five series:

Series I: Boxes 1-37, Prints

Series II: Boxes 38-41, Publications

Series III: Boxes 42-46, Prints and Negatives

Series IV: Boxes 47-76, Negatives

Series V: Boxes 77-87, Negatives, Slides, Prints, Ephemera, and Objects

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Inez Rita Kohl, Patricia Kohl Wightman, and Deborah Kohl, 2003.

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of 87 boxes housing over 55,000 images dating from ca 1980 – ca 2002. These include approximately 2,671 prints of varying dimensions, perhaps 50,000 negative images on 35mm and 120mm film, several thousand plastic 2x2 color slides, and contact sheets. Many items, particularly the strips of negatives, were cleaned during processing.

The collection also contains photo request forms, model release-waivers, business forms, and other ancillary materials related to Kohl’s business and the development of his photos. There are also copies of publications featuring Kohl’s work, and personal ephemera.

Subjects encompass a range of individual people, groups, events, and scenes from Baltimore. Images include local sporting events, political demonstrations and protests, small rock concerts, professional wrestling matches, dances and parties, and portraits taken by Kohl of clients and friends. Notable people featured in the collection include mayors of Baltimore William Donald Schaefer (1921-2011), Kurt Schmoke (1949-), and Martin O’Malley (1963-); U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (1936-); Baltimore Orioles players Cal Ripken, Jr. (1960-) and Cal Ripken, Sr. (1935-1999); U.S. congressman and president of the NAACP, Kwesi Mfume (1948-); civil rights leader and Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson (1941-); film director John Waters (1946-); musician Frank Zappa (1940-1993) and Kohl’s close friend and contemporary, the photographer Carl Clark (1933-2015), who also donated the collection to MdHS.

The collection is notable for its photos of various political protests and marches in the Baltimore area throughout the 1990s, especially those concerning LGBTQ issues. There are many pictures of local demonstrations against the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights in 1997, and Baltimore’s Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade in the years 1999 and 2000. For the breadth of Kohl’s documentation of Baltimore’s cultural “underground” of the 1980s and 1990s, the collection is a significant resource for anyone interested in the city’s bohemian scenes and nightlife of that era.

The collection also includes a significant number of nude portraits and pornographic images taken by Kohl in the course of his work for private clients, though it’s likely that many such photos were taken at the invitation of Kohl’s friends and personal acquaintances in a noncommercial context. There are also a number of non-nude photographs depicting subjects in their underwear or in the accoutrements of S&M sex, some of them likely taken at parties and other functions attended by Kohl as a private guest and not necessarily as a working photographer. None of the nude portraits or pornographic images appears to have been taken candidly or without the consent of the subject(s), and there is no evidence to suggest that any of the subjects featured in Kohl’s nude or pornographic images were minors at the time he photographed them. Care has been taken to label the parts of the collection that include nude or pornographic images in the finding aid and within individual boxes.

The identification of people, places, and dates is uneven across the collection. Some images were already identified by Kohl himself on the reverse of the print, or on envelopes, boxes, or at the tops of plastic sheets of negatives; every effort has been made to transfer Kohl’s own identifying marks to the finding aid and for those identifying marks to inform the order in which the collection was processed. The same is true for those photos which could be confidently identified in the course of processing. Wherever possible, materials grouped together by Kohl himself have been kept in order, and noted in the container list below. The vast majority of subjects in the photos remain unidentified, as well as their dates (though many dates have been deduced in the course of processing). Given the array of subjects in the collection, and the random nature of the original organization, not all the boxes are organized strictly by subject and they are not cataloged chronologically.

Guide to the Joseph Kohl photograph collection
Under Revision
Joe Tropea, Lauren Davin, Andrew Holter, Sarah LaCorte, and Charles Patch.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020-03-04: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Mallory Herberger.

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States