Visionary photographer Devin Allen empowering young people with cameras, not guns

Baltimore-based photographer Devin Allen, who gained international attention when his documentary photograph of the Baltimore Uprising was published on a Time Magazine cover, honours his motto “shoot with the heart, not with the eyes” with every photo he takes.

The self-taught photographer, who also teaches photography to young people in the city, wants to arm the youth of Baltimore with cameras, not guns. He explains: “Coming from Baltimore you didn’t have people like me. All I knew was a bunch of drug dealers, so being a photographer, being from Baltimore, being self taught is rare.

“It’s always good to elevate and go beyond. Coming from Baltimore you get counted out as soon as you come out the womb … I think I’ve got a lot to offer to the rest of the world, a different perspective, showing Baltimore in a new light, someone still living in their community, still very accessible.”

Devin Allen founded the youth photography educational programme, Through Their Eyes, to spread “hope and love through art” by training students from districts where arts education programmes have been underfunded on how to use photography to express themselves.

Through crowd-sourced fundraising, Devin Allen has been able to provide students with cameras, donating his time holding youth photography workshops, and organising an exhibition of the students’ work.

This Friday an exhibition celebrating the self-taught photographer’s work, A Beautiful Ghetto, opens at The Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville, New York. The exhibition showcases Devin Allen’s documentation of the landscape and community of Baltimore immediately following the death of Freddie Gray.

In April 2015, the city of Baltimore erupted in mass protests in response to the arrest, hospitalisation and resulting death of Freddie Gray who was severely injured while in police custody. A Beautiful Ghetto captures the life of Baltimore and the people who live there.

The work not only acts as an archive of the demonstrations in response to Gray’s death, but each photo reveals the personality, beauty, and spirit of Baltimore and its people, as Devin Allen’s camera seeks to challenge beliefs and interpretations of the word “ghetto”.

In the exhibition, Devin Allen asks the viewer to see beyond the the violence and poverty that all too often defines the “ghetto”. Devin Allen’s camera finds hope and beauty doing battle against a system that sows desperation and fear, and above all, resistance, to the unrelenting pressures of racism and poverty in a 21st century American city.

He explains: “When most people think about the word ‘ghetto,’ they think of poverty, struggle, pain, violence, drugs. But for me, the word ‘ghetto’ is so much more. When I look deep into my community, I see a beauty that is often overlooked and unappreciated.”

After Devin Allen became one of only three amateur photographers to have landed one of their images on the cover of Time Magazine, he was inundated with job offers that would have required him to relocate.

The Baltimore native opted instead to remain in Baltimore, where he remains committed to teaching photography to at-risk youth in his spare time, empowering young people to tell their stories giving them a means of expression, a marketable skill and an alternative to violence.

A Beautiful Ghetto exhibition runs at The Gordon Parks Foundation from 15 September to 18 November 2017. A book, A Beautiful Ghetto, which accompanies the exhibition is out now, published by Haymarket Books

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable lifestyle and living, wellbeing, and entertainments. Rosa also works as a psychic, counsellor, intuitive reader and spiritual life coach helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives:

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