A Conversation With Devin Allen

A Conversation With Devin Allen

Born and raised in West Baltimore, Devin Allen has rapidly emerged as a leading political and human rights photographer. Armed only with his trusty Leica camera, Allen became a key documenter of the cultural landscape surrounding the death of Freddie Gray and the Baltimore Uprising. Three years later – and after numerous features including a TIME Magazine cover – Allen’s exhibition in his hometown, A Beautiful Ghetto, offers viewers a glimpse into the scope of his work, which comprehensively details the fabric of urban American life.

‘A Beautiful Ghetto’

“I’m fairly new to the world of photography,” Allen, who was introduced to the art during a night of poetry in 2013 hosted by a friend returning from serving in Iraq, explains. In fact, purchasing his first camera had a significant impact on Allen’s life, not only in terms of creating but also in terms of a positive trajectory. “I completely left the streets alone, and wasn’t hanging outside or dealing anymore. My mother got me a job in Corporate America which put a wedge between me and my closest friends because they were still on the street.” The result? “I started to see the world differently,” Allen reflects, quickly identifying with a group of friends who belonged to an entirely new, creative ecosystem in Baltimore.

Regarding the impact of Baltimore’s social movement on Allen, the photographer remarks, “As an artist you reflect and portray the things and moments around you.” It was after the death of Michael Brown that Allen became actively engaged in the cause, using his images and various social platforms to tell a story of social injustice and discrimination, but ultimately, hope. “There’s a lot of love in this city,” Allen says of his hometown, while affirming the power of positivity.

‘Uprising’

As a fellow of the Gordon Parks Foundation, Allen met his now-mentor Swizz Beatz at one of the charity’s events. Having given a speech just moments earlier regarding both Allen’s work and his personal investment in the next generation of Baltimore’s creatives, the photographer’s words served as inspiration while the hundreds of donated cameras and countless hours of ensuing photography lessons cemented Allen as mentor in his own right. “Anytime I have anything going on I can text him,” Allen said, before explaining it was Swizz Beatz himself who gifted Allen his first Leica camera. “Shooting with Leica makes me think. It’s the perfect tool that fits my style,” Allen comments. As for his current direction? “I’m moving toward storytelling everyday life without shooting people, showing the landscape of Baltimore and the vacant homes.” The manual, controlled process of shooting on a Leica continues to appeal to the photographer – a perfectionist at heart.

Instagram has played a huge role in making Allen’s work and message hyper visible, owed mostly to the platform’s fast pace paired with a handful of viral posts, all of which Allen says contributed to his early success. Although social media continues to be a driving force, Allen refuses to alter his eye for the sake of double taps. “I don’t create for social media… I want my work to transition and become timeless.”

Devin Allen’s debut book A Beautiful Ghetto is available online and at select retailers. Images from A Beautiful Ghetto are on exhibit through 05.24.18 at 1407 Fleet Street, Baltimore. Learn more about Allen’s work via The Gordon Parks Foundation.

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