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Family Album

A Year in the Life of a Southwest Baltimore Household

By Frank Klein | Posted 6/29/2005

Sitting on the roof of a Southwest Baltimore building late on July 4 last year, City Paper contributing photographer Frank Klein watched as a fight broke out at a rowhouse across the street. Commotion at 219 S. Pulaski St. was a familiar sight to Klein, who's been renting studio space on the block for about three years.

"They were constantly causing a ruckus in the street," Klein says of the sprawling Oxendine family who lives in the three-bedroom house. "Screaming, fighting, getting drunk. Their windows are always broken, and their kids were always out in the street."

In a neighborhood teeming with drug dealers, Klein figured, someone in 219 was eventually going to get hurt. "Everybody reports on murders after they happen," Klein says, "but I've always wanted to do a story on what leads up to violent crimes in Baltimore." The Oxendine family seemed to Klein the ideal subject for that sort of project: "I was sure one of them was going to get killed."

Over the course of the next year, Klein regularly photographed the inhabitants of 219-a matriarch and her shifting brood of adult sons, their girlfriends, and children-ingratiating himself with the adults by focusing on their kids. That approach, Klein says, led him to quickly become more interested in the Oxendines as a present-day family than as prospective victims. Klein became particularly drawn to one of the younger Oxendine sons, Clayton, 21, who appeared more introspective than his rowdier brothers.

"Clayton drinks like they all do, but he's more stable when he's drunk," Klein says. "I think it's because of his kids. If you just look at him, you can tell it's weighing on him."

None of the Oxendines has been killed or seriously injured since this time last year, though three of the brothers have received minor stab wounds in fights, and two of them have been arrested. The most recent arrest was Clayton Oxendine's in May, for failing to appear at trial on a drug-possession charge dating back to November 2004.

Now out on probation, Clayton agreed to come into City Paper's offices last month to talk about Klein's photographs. A slight man who looks much older than his years, Clayton kept his eyes lowered and spoke in a hesitant, muffled voice. Asked to narrate the photos as if presenting a family slide show, Clayton was slow to open up about himself and his neighborhood. But as dozens of Klein's photos-most of which Clayton was seeing for the first time-scrolled across a computer screen, he began to offer increasingly intimate reflections on his family and environment. (Gadi Dechter)

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