Photographer Devin Allen spent three weeks documenting the uprising in Baltimore following the untimely death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in April 2015. He took thousands of photos, but one picture of a young black man running from a group of riot-gear clad police officers seized the country’s attention.
The perfectly-framed photo captured the tension in the city and eventually made it onto the cover of Time Magazine, which marked a powerful moment for Allen and his community. The Huffington Post recently caught up with Allen in his hometown of Baltimore to look back on the career-defining picture and get a glimpse into his current life.
Allen, who grew up in West Baltimore, five minutes from the location where Gray encountered the police, is fiercely devoted to his city despite its troubles. The stark economic, health, and housing disparities between the city’s black and white populations are no secret, but even while photographing the uprising Allen said he saw beauty.
“Even though it might have been a dark time, I was able to make it look so beautiful,” Allen told The Huffington Post. “Certain parts are more beautiful than others, but I think that everything is beautiful, even the negative parts. I try to portray that in my work… I call [Baltimore] the beautiful ghetto.”
Allen’s ability to show and share nuanced perspectives about his city is evident through his Instagram, which is filled with gorgeous depictions of black life in Baltimore and so much more. A scroll through his profile reveals poised women in headwraps, gritty urban landscapes and carefree kids playing basketball ― much of which he captured using an iPhone.
In 2015, Allen launched the program Through Their Eyes to help teach Baltimore kids photography skills and showcase their photos in local exhibitions. He said he wanted to push young community members to learn a new skill and take control of their own narratives.
“It’s so important to have cameras in these spaces, because at the end of the day, when other journalists and people come here and take pictures, they’re never going to get the right story,” he said. “They’re not going to dig deep enough because they don’t love us. They … don’t love the community like we do.”
That love runs deep. While walking through the city during the interview, Allen stopped by Baltimore’s City of Gods streetwear clothing shop, where he had his first photoshoot years ago. Today, Allen’s Time magazine cover hangs on the walls of the store.
“I just wanted to document the fact that I was able to change people’s views on my community with just a single shot,” he said of the framed cover. “CNN, BBC, even Time were reaching out to me, wanting to know my story, wanting to know, ‘Where did you come from? How are you able to photograph these things?’ But it all goes back to the core thing ― that my city is my inspiration. My city is my heartbeat.”
The video above was produced by Choyce Miller, edited by Chai Dingari and Jenna Kline and shot by Andrew Moynehan and Alex Kushneir.