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Photographer Devin Allen uses his craft to inspire Baltimore youth

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When Devin Allen talks to students in a school in the city center, few kids believe that one of Baltimore’s most prominent photographers is from the neighborhood. “They said,’This guy didn’t do all this. He’s from West Baltimore,'” says Allen. “As soon as I opened my mouth, they said,’Yes, I’m from here. It will be like “you”. “

Baltimore’s youth aren’t the only ones who are amazed at Allen’s overnight success. The career trajectory of a self-taught photographer changed dramatically in 2015, with a series of photographs taken during the Baltimore uprising (a series of photographs taken during the Baltimore uprising (25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested during police detention and died as a result). (Protest) became a hot topic. A few days later, a photo of a young black man running down the street with riot gear on heels and police on heels became the cover of Time magazine, and Allen was the only amateur photographer whose work appeared on the cover of the publication. became.

Allen had a lot of chances, and then he was in his mid-20s. In 2017, he became the first Fellow of the Gordon Parks Foundation. The Gordon Parks Foundation recognizes Allen’s dedication to social justice through art, near a groundbreaking black photographer whose generation has influenced the photojournalism of civil rights issues, poverty, and the experience of African Americans. Of the artist who placed him. Allen’s first book “A Beautiful Ghetto” was released in the same year. In 2020, he created the timecover again. This time, I used a photo of the Black TransLives Matter protest. His second book, No Justice, No Peace: From the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter, will be published in October.

“I have a documentary photo, and then I have a documentary photo with this trust and humanity aspect,” Gordon Parks Foundation Executive Director Peter Kunhart, Jr. told me. “I saw a lot of pictures of protests, rallies, and marches, especially in the wake of George Floyd. What made me stand out in Devin’s work was the humanity of the subject’s face.

“It reminds me of Parks’s work when he was filming the Islamic State, Malcolm X’s work, and his work on civil rights at the March on Washington. I have the images he had and very much. I saw many similarities in. He captured the same essence of humanity in the subject, “says Kunhart.

The young people Allen is talking about don’t care about fellowships, book releases, and magazine covers. They get well when Allen tells them that they regularly take pictures of Baltimore-based under armor basketball star Stephen Curry. This is Allen’s entry to let them know that his life hasn’t started so differently from theirs.

Allen grew up in the neighborhood of West Forest Park, the son of a strong patriarch. “I was spoiled,” he says. “I didn’t have all the designers I wanted, but all the snacks and electricity around the world are always on.” Still, Allen started selling drugs in high school. It lasted only six years, but then Allen says he lost more than five close friends due to gun violence.

When he became a father at the age of 21, he decided that the days of fighting were over. Turning to his street photography, Allen was obsessed with recording his surroundings, and he learned his technical aspects through YouTube tutorials. He says the photo saved his life in a way that wasn’t necessarily figurative. When his best friend was killed, Allen realized how easy he was to be present. “The only reason I wasn’t with him was because I went to take pictures,” he says. “I turned to alcohol for a while to deal with it, but photography was really my medium to relieve that stress.”

I couldn’t prepare him for how it feels to look at him all. His first cover attracted public attention, but Allen, who succeeded in the wake of a crisis community, states that he attempted suicide shortly after he began to gain infamy. “My success is based on Freddie Gray’s broken back, which is deep in my heart every day,” says Allen, whose daily participation in the uprising for months contributed to the stress. .. “We were in tear gas, pepper spray. I was harassed by the police …. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I’m here. I’m working on my own PTSD and depression that I got from growing up in, “he says. “It was too overwhelming. Cracked, you know.”

Shortly thereafter, Allen, now 34, felt that he needed his own activist brand to evolve. “Photos have saved me mentally, physically and emotionally. I think many young children can do the same,” he says. He launched the GoFundMe campaign for a program called Inspire the Youth in June 2015, which quickly caught the attention of the locals before reaching Russell Simmons, who donated $ 25,000.

Allen had a camera and enthusiasm, but his first effort was a bit flat. “I was wondering,’Who wants to learn photography.’ The kids kicked me out,” he recalls with a laugh. But when the 20 students dropped to 5, he curated a small but passionate group. His next attempt was very intriguing in collaboration with Windsor Hill Elementary / Junior High School, and Allen held an essay contest to select 10 students. Their work led to a photo exhibition at the Baltimore Art Center Motorhouse. The next workshop at Kids Safe Zone attracted national media attention. Although his own career and pandemic make it difficult to carry out regular programs, Allen continues to visit schools and regularly hand out cameras to children in the community. So far, there are an estimated 600 people.

Recently, while taking a photo of the opening credits for the HBO series “We Own This City,” Allen met 20-year-old Keshana Miller seven years after teaching her in the Kids Safe Zone. “She came and showed me some of her recent work she did with her own phone and showed me how she’s still crazy about her pictures. “He says. Impressed by her dedication, Allen promised to get a camera for Miller. Despite some setbacks, Art is an integral part of her life, she says, as Miller is preparing to graduate from high school this summer. It motivates me and helps me to be a better person. “

Allen recognizes that staying on the lawn of the house classified him as a civil rights movement and street photography, but thinks it’s not as niche as the call. Staying in Baltimore makes him more accessible to those he wants to inspire. He succeeded in saving how many children, “he says. “That’s why I’m still in Baltimore.”

Carita Rizzo is a Paris-based writer.

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