Philip Laubner and Rafael Alvarez capture the Tuerk House

“The first portrait I shot in the Tuerk House series was of 92-year-old ex-nurse Wendy Mater.  British born, vibrant and still an avid yoga practitioner, Wendy didn’t try to be interesting, she couldn’t help it,” said Philip Edward Laubner, photographer for The Tuerk House, a history of the Baltimore non-profit recovery center, which will be released from Otter Bay Books on Sept. 1.

Laubner described Tuerk House as “a dilapidated single row house [that] has grown – in spite of near bankruptcy, ‘colorful’ early supporters, and the adversity that affects most new ventures – into an accredited four location residential and out patient [facility] for the alcoholics and addicts of Baltimore.”  He added that, “Tuerk House isn’t just a place for drunks to dry out and then be released without a plan, without support.  They understand that the disease of alcoholism and addiction is complicated and that recovery is a life-long process.”

Philip Edward Laubner

Laubner is a full-time photo editor for Catholic Relief Services and freelance photographer.  “I moved to Baltimore in August 2007 and was struck by its quirky charm, its amazing people, and its incredible art scene.  I love it here,” he added.

Laubner’s work can be seen in the Baltimore Post-Examiner’s story, “Poe’s Pilgrims” (April 9, 2012), The Urbanite, the Baltimore Sun, the City Paper and WhatWeekly.

A Bostonian, Laubner lived for five years in New Orleans and worked at an “under-staffed, full service ad agency after Hurricane Katrina,” before moving to Baltimore.

The Tuerk House was a project that Laubner took on at the suggestion of a board member for the non-profit, Lucy Howard, who had seen his work.  Laubner was paired with Baltimore Post-Examiner contributor, Rafael Alvarez, who wrote the stories of “Tuerk House founders and champions through-out the years.

“What the Tuerk House accomplished with a coffee pot, clean sheets  and fundamental steps to recovery – way before drug and alcohol treatment was a billion dollar a year industry – is seldom achieved today,” Alvarez said. “The early pioneers served their fellow drunks because they knew their own lives were at stake. The best part of doing this book was going back and finding those ancient do-gooders who set out like Lewis and Clark, not knowing where it would lead but determined to get there … and, as always, I learned details about Baltimore – the micro-history of Crabtown that fascinates me so – with every note I took .”

Laubner’s main contribution for the book was “providing full-page portraits for the beginning of each chapter.”

Laubner’s first portrait of ex-nurse Wendy Mater.

It took several hours to shoot each subject because Laubner had a “distinct format or style to adhere to.”   Each subject is shot against a white background.

“The black and white images are pretty much as shot, with no retouching or photoshop work,” Laubner said.  “I feel that this ‘as is’ presentation preserves the dignity of the subject, underscores the gravity of recovery, and pairs well with the humanity of Rafael’s writing.”

“Taking the photo is the easiest part of the process,” Laubner explained.  “There’s the explanation given to each subject to explain why you’ll need  them to turn their living room into a portable studio.  When you get to a location, you are entering someone’s home and expecting them to do what you need them to do in the time that you need them to do it, so you have to be people savvy.”

A book signing for The Tuerk House is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18 in the Poe Room of the Enoch Pratt Central Library, 400 Cathedral St., Baltimore.