Throughout the Freddie Gray protests, one photographer’s work stood out among the hundreds of images from local media, photo hobbyists, bloggers, and out-of-towners from Getty Images, AP, Reuters, and news networks trying to record the historical event unfolding before them. Devin Allen, 26, of Catonsville amassed more than 41,000 followers on Instagram with his intense close-ups of the protests and found one of his shots on the cover of Time magazine, which gave him an inside spread and will keep him on as a stringer. We caught up with the extremely busy and super-friendly young photographer at For Rent Shoes as he prepared to give a Creative Mornings talk at Center Stage the next day. (J.M. Giordano)
City Paper: How long have you been shooting?
Devin Allen: Since about 2013. It was mostly fashion and street photography. I just picked it up as something I wanted to do.
CP: You’ve said that you have no formal training. Are there any photographers you look up to?
DA: Gordon Parks and Van Styles.
CP: You’re also an activist. How important is photography to a social movement like the Freddie Gray protests?
DA: Very. With photography you get to see so many different views, mine and others. There has been more exposure here than even in Ferguson. So many people here taking pictures can show much more what’s really going on and [offer] many different perspectives.
CP: You’re not a professional photographer, meaning that you don’t do this for a living. Do you have a job that supports your photo work?
DA: Yes, I work with people with autism from 12 [a.m.] to [8 a.m.]. I’m taking photos when I’m not working. I basically don’t sleep.
CP: Why did you decide to photograph the Freddie Gray protests? What did you hope to accomplish?
DA: It’s an important movement, not just here but in Ferguson. With my photos, I want to put [people] there. Photography is not just one truth, it’s multiple truths. It’s one story and different stories. That’s the beauty of photography. Without it, things could have gotten a lot worse. We’ve helped stop a lot of things by taking pictures. I think this has proved that people are inspired to get out there and take pictures and use social media. We’re getting voices that haven’t been heard before.
CP: Switching gears for a second, what kind of equipment do you use?
DA: For a camera, I use the Fuji X-T1. I only use prime [fixed] lenses and no zoom. Primes put you right there. I like to shoot film on occasion. I hope to get a new camera when the check from Time gets here.
CP: Let’s talk about that. How did you get hooked up with Time?
DA: People started sharing my Instagram photos from the protests. DJs, the BBC hit me up, and then Time featured some in their Lightbox [photo blog]. After looking at those, they used one for the cover. I cried when I found out, then my mom cried when she found out. I’ve got some photos in the new issue too. I hope they keep me around.
CP: So what’s next for you?
DA: I want give back to the community. I want to shoot full time, but this isn’t about money for me, it’s about getting out there and teaching kids in my community photography. It’s something I’m meant to do. In February I lost two friends who were killed back to back over two days. I was supposed to be with one of them. I was out taking photos instead. The city needs me to keep taking photos. I’m not going anywhere.