By Taylor Bromante
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Holden Warren describes himself as “hell bent on a better world,” and he has a lot to show for it.
After spending a little over three years in Tonga serving in the Peace Corps, the photographer and filmmaker began travelling the world to document issues of adversity and his own experience with activism.
Today, the 39-year-old Baltimore native is turning his attention to his hometown and is making a documentary about Baltimore Arabbers – street merchants, typically African Americans, who sell fruit from colorful horse-drawn carts. It is a little known tradition that still roams the city streets of Baltimore.
“I moved back to Baltimore in 2008 after living overseas for a while,” Warren said. “I was living in Bolton Hill and I saw one of the Arabber wagons go by and was fascinated. I started hanging out at the yard and first looked at it as a potential photo story.”
Arabbing dates back to the Civil War era and exists to bring locals fresh produce right to their doorstep. But there are only a few Arabbers left in the city.
“I met (Holden) through my Uncle Junior,” said James Chase, president of the Arabber Preservation Society, a nonprofit based in Baltimore. “I think he was interested in doing a story on the Arabbers, so I would see him come around from time to time always taking pictures.”
Chase runs the only Arabber yard in Baltimore, abundant with horses, carriages and other farm animals. He nominated Warren for vice president of the Arabber Preservation Society once he saw how quickly Warren became passionate for the long lost tradition.
The Arabbers have impacted my life artistically, creatively and professionally,” Warren said. “It’s an interesting line of work that has opened a lot of doors for me. The Arabbers are like my family now.
“I shared my vision about the yard with (Holden) and he became interested,” Chase said. “He started putting in the footwork to try and get things together. He really jumped out there and put a lot of effort into helping me out with the yard.”
Coming from a long line of Arabbers in his family, Chase aspires to keep the tradition alive. He also envisions the yard as being a horse discovery center where children can learn about the history of Arabbing.
Warren has made it a priority to accomplish this vision by reaching out to big names in the horse industry like the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Horse Board.
“It’s been a pleasure working with the Arabbers for all these years,” Warren said. “I like to capture their story through photography, video and virtual reality.”
According to Chase, Warren was also the main facilitator when it came to meeting SPCA standards for the Arabber yard.
“We’re still working,” Chase said. “We still take the horse out and carry fruit on the wagons, serving the community.”
Chase imagines the yard hosting workshops, films, hands-on training with the horses (cleaning the tack, grooming the cleaning out a stall, putting the saddle on) and even teaching children how to ride. Warren has furthered the process and shown commitment to the Arabbers.
“We could stage a route where we could teach little kids how to Arab,” Chase said. “My idea was to stage some customers and in return for the customers being part of the program, let them keep the fruit. It could keep the kids out of trouble.”
Chase and Warren continue to preserve the tradition of Arabbing because of its value to the communities of Baltimore.
“A lot of people fall back on selling drugs, robbing and stealing,” Chase said. “We want to show them that there’s something different out here. We want to bring back that neighborly love. We just want to bring some positivity.”
According to Warren, the Arabbers have been one of his most beloved projects.
“I want to create a fully developed narrative,” Warren said. “I want to use it to create interest and investment. My projects to be investments of creative energy and creative capital.”
Warren fostered a collaboration between Baltimore-based street artist Gaia and the Arabbers. The Arabber yard’s walls are covered with colorful, moving murals.
“There was a big jump start when we did the first mural project in the Arabber yard,” Warren said. “A lot of people in the community were coming out and learning about the Arabbers through art, which initially led to the community supporting them.”
Mike Faulkner, owner of 36Seagulls Productions in Baltimore, recalls first partnering with Warren and sharing a love for photography and Paris.
“He had a big heart and a keen eye for the human condition,” Faulkner said. “He’s got courage. I admire his persistence in championing community.”
Faulkner is the producer of Warren’s developing film on the Arabbers.
“With Holden we are always going someplace new,” Faulkner said. “I really enjoyed making the 360/VR video, ‘An Arabber’s Call’ with him, which had us running around Baltimore’s East and West sides with BJ filming his day-to-day work.”
Faulkner and Warren have created a short film centering on Chase and a virtual reality video on the Arabbers, which was filmed with a 360-degree camera. The team began taking the films to national film festivals in November.
“I can only guess or intuit why he has made it his mission to support and illuminate Baltimore’s Arabber tradition,” Faulkner said. “I believe he likes their independent and free spirit. He is drawn to the majesty of the horses and sees the work they do as community building and kind of a living work of art.”
Both Faulkner and Warren hope to secure digital distribution once the feature length film is finished, but the end goal is to showcase the Arabbers and how vital they are to Baltimore’s legacy.
“The short film that we just finished is just one chapter that will be continued,” Warren said.
According to Warren, after the feature length film is finished, he is interested in creating and exhibition or a photo story.
“I hope the public will feel the importance of how traditions like Arabbing can strengthen communities and provide a living link to the cultural history and identity,” Faulkner said.
Warren is devoted to filming several facets of the Baltimore community as well. He has filmed the Freddie Gray protests, the “Afromation” movement and the illegal dirt bike craze that is present in the inner city.
“He puts his heart into it and to see somebody do that makes me feel overwhelmed with joy,” Chase said. “I thank God that people like Holden came into my life. He is really dedicated to what he’s doing and often times he doesn’t even have to do it, nobody pays him to do it or anything so at the end of the day I hope he does get something out of it.”
Warren continuously immerses himself into different cultures and issues around the world. He is fond of fusing social issues together with art.
“The Arabbers have impacted my life artistically, creatively and professionally,” Warren said. “It’s an interesting line of work that has opened a lot of doors for me. The Arabbers are like my family now.”