Art, Politics & Society

Devin Allen, the eyes of Baltimore

We all like a happy-ending story, don’t we ? So let me tell you the story of Devin Allen.

From rags to riches

On April 25th, Devin Allen was still a random inhabitant of Baltimore, a city where more than 60% of the population is Black. He would take pictures as a hobby. He would post them on Instagram. That’s it.

On this very day, two weeks after Freddy Gray’s horrible death, he took part in a protest against police violence and systemic racism. Whereas a huge majority of demonstrators were peaceful, a few clashes broke out. He made some poignant and highly symbolic pictures of the confrontation with the police.

One of his shots showed a Black man running, followed by a herd of police officers wearing riot gears. He posted it on Instagram and Twitter. It went viral. A few days later,he was contacted by Time magazine. It was the third time only that a non professional photographer made the cover of the magazine. Devin Allen was propelled to a whole new level and received national (and even international) attention.

A complex and diverse work

The photographs taken during the Baltimore protests shed light on Devin Allen’s engagement as an artist for the African-American community and racial justice. Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013, and in 2015 Allen was already a staunch supporter of this movement which considerably gained traction in 2020.

Today his work echoes with the mass protests that followed the death of George Floyd in the United States. Allen’s famous photograph for Time Magazine also referred to 1968 and the civil rights movement. So even though the situation was slightly different each time, the picture clearly has a universal dimension. It has become a symbol against institutional racism.

However, his work does not boil down to this noble cause. His photographs also cover issues such as gender inequalities and precariousness. The city of Baltimore actually gathers and combines the different aspects of his work. Baltimore is one of the few Northern cities where African Americans were deeply rooted before the Great Migration. This important community (which represented 63% of the population in the 2010 census) has had a huge impact on the city’s culture. Many of Allen’s photographs catch the gist of West Baltimore and East Baltimore, two sections of the city with a high proportion of African Americans. Allen unveils the secret charm and the banal and forgotten places of urban landscapes.

"Being from Baltimore, I know the streets, I know people here. So I was going to capture every moment"

Despite the fact he entered the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Allen did not forget the streets he came from. In particular, he started a program that aims at teaching photography to Baltimore kids. His initiative was supported by famous African-American personalities and worked very well.

Such a story reminds of the American dream. Actually, it rather shows that another version of the American dream is possible for young African-Americans from urban areas.But for now, it remains an exception.

Allen's work is accessible on his Instagram : @bydvnlln.

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