My Friend Noah

The first time I met Noah Scialom was in 2013 on a street corner, waving an iPhone 4s camera around snapping photos of me. It was an unexpected moment to find myself in. We spoke a bit about our day and made plans to walk around the neighborhood for his City Paper column, titled How's it Goin'. The back page column was simple, he'd inquire with strangers "so what's happening, how's your day been?" while jotting down their reactions in a tiny notebook. People were so open with him, he was capable of disarming their aversions. Camera in hand, Noah was fearless in the act of documenting the human experience. He could talk with anybody, a rare trait to have. During our early 20's, we believed in being witnesses to the world. We fed into each other's obsession with that outlook. He gave me the confidence to be myself.

Noah's collection of oddball vehicles is a story in itself: a motorcycle with a screwdriver jammed in the ignition, a black van with a side-mount spotlight, a sports utility truck with the top sawed-off, a friend of a friends sports car. A typical day with him would be sneaking into the back of a monster truck show, searching for the driver of the Grave Digger. Eventually security caught on and would shoo us away, but not without a bit of ribbing. We'd then rush in front of the camera for the jumbo-tron and make silly faces at the announcers. All in a days work! Nobody else was willing to be that silly with me. I say "silly" and not "mischief" because he was genuinely interested in the people he met. I'm more into mischief. Speaking of mischief, I remember spotting a thief on a friends moped while cycling home. Knowing that I couldn't take the bike out of their backyard on my own, I called Noah for backup. He brought three motorcycle bikers who had not a clue about what was happening as backup. The thief's father had noticeable sings of brain damage and pulled a large knife on us all. We were able to snatch the stolen moped back and leave the bad situation behind us.

Noah is the first artist in my life to use the iPhone camera with diligence. Photographers at the time stuck with DSLR cameras and viewed the iPhone as "not good enough" for high quality work. In reality, the smartphone is perfect for it's small size and side volume button that doubled as a shutter button. It allowed for the decisive moment in time to occur unobstructed. The moments he captured are very close to the truth; Noahs work is the making of a master of street photography. The act of observing was his strength. Noah is a seeker, a witness to the world at large.

Sometime in 2014, Noah asked me to help with the photo arrangement of his first book, titled Photography Book. We printed and laid out over 80 photos across the floor, going through several arrangements and narratives they might share together. Ultimately, it was clear his sense of affection for children, young adults, and eccentric Baltimore moments shined through. We could not decide on a book title, which is expected as Noah obsessed over double meanings and puns, hence his title of choice. It was a fun time in our lives, to be immersed in what we loved. The printed version showcased a deep interconnection with people; a cop on all fours next to a dog, a concerned young girl pointing at a man arrested on the ground, a toothless woman in an oversized YOLO shirt, a man wearing two giant snakes around his neck, an Arabber in an Napoleon-like stance on top of a horse, new parents laughing in the diaper aisle, and a boy pointing a play revolver at two other boys. There's a quote on the front cover that sums up Noah quite well:

Noah Scialom will steal your TV. He will steal your laptop and your grandmother's jewelry. He will steal the love letters you kept from your ex. If you blink, he will steal your soul. But most importantly, he will steal your heart. If you want any of these things back, check his van. He leaves in unlocked." – Carabella Sands

The back cover reads "JUST CALL ME" with his mobile number.

Throughout the years, Noah became a witness to so many bona fide moments. During any part of the day, I could call him and know the chain of events before the news did. Those occasions include: the crackdown of DIY art scene spaces which led to his first night in city jail, an officer waving his gun at a crowd of 30 people, taking over the New Yorker Instagram account, being a witness to the 2015 unrest in Baltimore, raising funds for the Penn North Kid Safe Zone, and so much more.

He was also an visceral key in the creation of music videos for Leon Bridges and Rise Against, even starring in a music video for Pianos Become the Teeth. You can see bits of his personality in each.

Piano Becomes the Teeth – Ripple Water Shine (2015)
Rise Against – People Live Here (2016)
Leon Bridges – River (2016)

There were dark moments as well. Noah and close friends abruptly overheard an execution styled shooting of two young adults sitting on a curb at night. They managed to save the life on one, whom is now fully paralyzed in bed. Looking back, it's obvious to me how much trauma he endured from this terrible night. Many of his Instagram followers criticized and serrated his innate choice of sharing his photos of that moment. As if he censored any of his work before, or that he was even capable of fibbing the truth. He's another witness to the grim reality of life in Baltimore and many parts of America rift with gun violence. I personally felt a deep betrayal from his online followers for missing the purpose of his life work, and for putting the blame on him for something he witnessed. Even in this awful night, the family thanked Noah for his sharing, as they were able to identify their slain son before the police could officially talk about.

Our friendship drifted in 2017, from weekly hangouts to digital pings here and there. I chalked this up as growing pains of becoming a 30 year old adult. The biggest con of becoming an adult is the silent hardships we endure throughout our 20's. On January 23, 2017 Noah took his life. We spiral out of control.

• • • 

Approaching his first year gone, Julie and I decided to wheat paste some of his photos on a unkept property in Remington. You know you're doing the right thing when several bypassers stop to talk with you about it.

Photos by Sam Levin

I believe that environment shapes all, and that Noah's unrestricted spirit is out there, documenting the moments we overlook. I look forward to seeing his Magnum Opus photo book, whenever that may be. Until then we are highway dancers.

I want to send my love to Jane, Jennifer, Julie, Lily, Kristin, Tyler, Sam, and so many other free thinkers of our time.

Know A Photographer, Instagram account.

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