Exhibit | Devin Allen: Awakenings, In a New Light

© Devin Allen, courtesy of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum

“People don’t understand Baltimore. They only think of ‘The Wire’…it’s worse than that. But we have a strong community. My city is real. There’s no sugar coating. It’s a small city. In twenty, thirty minutes I can be anywhere. You see the issues the people face. That’s why I love it so much. If you’re from Baltimore you can make it anywhere,” says Devin Allen, a 27-year-old amateur photographer whose pictures of the Baltimore uprising following the death of Freddie Gray in April of this year became iconic of the Black Liberation Movement born again.

The photographs, which began as a viral sensation, made it to the cover of Time Magazine, making Allen only the third amateur photographer to do so. Allen, a Baltimore native, grew up just five minutes away from the site of Freddie Gray’s fatal encounter with local police on April 12.

© Devin Allen, courtesy of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum

Allen photographed the uprising, which began April 18, and continued over the course of ten days. With an ongoing cycle of protests, arrests, and injuries, the tension increased until it reached the breaking point when the police refused high school students access to public transportation, preventing them from going home. Violence erupted, with police cars destroyed and a CVS Pharmacy burned and looted. A state of emergency was declared and the National Guard was sent in—but when it was all over, it was the people of Baltimore who came together to clean up the streets, maintaining the unity that they had created throughout the month.

In Allen’s eyes, the Baltimore uprising created, “Unity and love. In my city, that’s rare. People have difficulties. But we all united in one goal. We have to keep that up. We united for the protest, and once it stops, what do you do then? We love one another. There are multiple ways to fight. You can’t fix other issues if your home is not straight. I am a true activist for my city.”

© Devin Allen, courtesy of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum

Indeed, Allen has partnered with the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Baltimore, for the first solo show of his photographs titled Devin Allen: New Awakenings, In a New Light, now on view through December 7, in a new community space inside the museum called Lewis Now. The exhibition is free to the public, and has been designed to have interactive components. A number of the images have been enlarged to 20-feet wide and have been wheat pasted onto the wall by Allen, in a nod to the street origins of the images. Visitors can also write responses to the prompt, “Where were you?” on a timeline that shows a number of the events Allen captured in the photographs.

Of his work, Allen says, “I want my photographs to create dialogue. I’m not here to tell you what happened. I want you to see this picture and come to your own idea about what you see. There is never one way to view it and different ideas create dialogue. People are scared to offend each other now and they don’t know how to talk. People need to argue for relief and to understand each other.”

© Devin Allen, courtesy of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum

When his work was thrust into the international spotlight, Allen showed the world Baltimore through the eyes of an insider and a person who has true heart. The story of Baltimore is one that circles back on itself, like the snake eating its tail, revolution happens when the circle is completed.

From April 6-14, 1968, the black people of Baltimore rioted in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Baltimore was just one of 125 cities across the United States in a series of events sometimes described as Holy Week Uprising. Once again, the National Guard was called in and a state of emergency had been declared, with hundreds injured, thousands arrested, and one thousand small businesses damaged. Property damages were severe, and occurred in the protesters’ own neighborhoods. With a national policy of “benign neglect” in place, state and federal funds did not come in to rebuild the city. The result was nearly five decades of abandoned buildings and vacant lots, with a commercial sector that had been virtually decimated.

© Devin Allen, courtesy of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum

Allen speaks of the Baltimore landscape in the way one used to speak of the South Bronx, remarking on both the desolate effect it has, and the resilience people hold. Their will to live and survive is powerful, and it is reflected in every photograph Allen takes. He explains that the title of the exhibition, New Awakenings, In a New Light, shows how, “Difficult situations woke people up from everyday life. We live in The Matrix. We’ve got jobs. We’re paying bills and ignoring the issues in the community. Death woke people up. It shined a new light. I want my photographs to inspire people to find their talent to make a chance. It feels good to bring that to my city. No one comes to Baltimore. We fought this battle on our own terms.”

Devin Allen: New Awakenings, In a New Light is now on view at Reginald F. Lewis Museum through December 7.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.