Q&A with Baltimore-based photographer Devin Allen

Q&A with Baltimore-based photographer Devin Allen

Devin Allen, a Baltimore native, has quickly become one of the foremost voices in the movement for Black lives. In the spring of 2015, with the death of Freddie Gray and tensions high in the city, Devin wanted to be a part of the movement. Having never photographed before, he instinctively picked up a camera to document the emotion, heartache, and anger in the streets. Since then, his work has resulted in two TIME magazine covers.

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Welcome to Getting to the Truth in this art. I am your host, Rob Lee. And today we have we have an illustrious guest. We have we got two big names here. We have photographer, photojournalist and activist based in Baltimore, Maryland. Please welcome Devin Allen.

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Devin Allen
No, no. Thanks for having me.

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This is this is this is this is this is one of those things that I hold up. What are we going to be got going on here? It's like you're just like a regular guy from Baltimore, which is.

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Devin Allen
Yeah, definitely, you know.

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So let's let's talk about your work and let's talk about your gear, because I see a lot of people. I see images like of of some of the gear that you're using and then I see people kind of yeah. Using that to I was like, not the same way though. So, so speak on that a little bit. Describe your work and describe your gear for us.

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Devin Allen
Yeah, like, you know, the work is that, you know, like a lot of people, you know, like my work started in the streets, you know? And that's one thing I think that, you know, that I all my success to Baltimore is that that, you know, the work was never about like the gear at first. It was just about it was something that I found through a mutual friend, you know, like a childhood friend.

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Devin Allen
We play basketball together. His name? Josh, asked an amazing poet in the city. So, like, if anybody know about, like, clearing, you know, bluffing ass niggas or, you know, or clear, clear sort of karma trees back in the day, you know, to terry holes leaves a lot of time that's like the space that I came up when I found Art in Baltimore and he was a poet.

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Devin Allen
You know, and I just kind of lean toward photography and I will use his camera. And I, you know, I decided that I wanted to be a photographer. You know, I didn't have a lot of support at the time, you know, as a guy that like, I grew up, I was outside. So, you know, like I know a lot of people in the city.

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Devin Allen
That's what I get a lot of support. So I was a party promoter. I was in the streets, I was hustling, you know, my peers. And then I found out and I think that the eye that I've has been able to develop where, you know, it allows me to create these dynamic images that bring you into Baltimore's because the connectivity between me and my, you know, my subjects, all my peers and my friends, you know, and that's kind of the style that I just started off shooting.

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Devin Allen
My homeboys can be seen shooting days was shooting it you know my homegirl say she won't be a model. I'm going to shoot my own, going to be an actress. I'm a shooter. My homeboy is a rapper. I'm going to shoot it, you know? And I just was like, Oh, that's you over the camera, you know? So I went from like everybody, you know, like Devin Allen is a fairly new concept, you know, growing up.

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Devin Allen
But it was, oh, that's a little moody. That's moody. And then, you know, when I decided that I just want to be this artist, I'ma just go by my real name. And, you know, when I start understanding equipment, you know, the technology of photography and being an artist, you know, I guess it took me to find a perfect tool, and now I have it.

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Devin Allen
No, it's is like, that's my camera brand that I'm I stand by all that I see right now and that's my favorite brand. And they support the work, you know, and that's like the biggest thing I try to allow myself with brains because I'm not clean cut. I'm not, you know, I'm from Baltimore. You know, I was in the streets, you know, I grew up, I was, you know, homophobic.

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Devin Allen
I was hyper masculine. I was all these different things, you know, that it took me years to decompress with the help of family and friends and just traveling and learning, you know, that I tried to be perfect, you know, because the work that I do is community based. Everything is about, you know, opening up door for the next generation, connecting with the youth.

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Devin Allen
And, you know, that's that's the art. You know, I just look at myself. I look at myself as a you know, I just a concerned citizen. I just feel like I'm filling a void. I just create and, you know, to make space for other the next generation.

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Yeah. It's funny you say that part at the end as far as like not even seeing yourself as an activist, right. Where I think that something that someone else like attaches and like in doing this podcast and what the nature of it is, it's like, yo, I got tired of people talking about Baltimore, so I need to show this good shit going on in Baltimore.

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And like, you're an activist. I like past like that. Not at all. Not at all. I just did. With a microphone in the air, it's like somebody's got to do it right? Yeah. So what was that key motivation? That could be more than one, but would say that motivation that comes to mind when you're taking pictures and when you're doing work.

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Is it economic? Is a political intellectual? I'm emotional. What hits you when you're like you're working on something?

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Devin Allen
Yeah. You know, you know something? I started off as a hobby, you know, as I study people like Gordon Parks and Anthony Barboza, sort of Robert Houston's Roy Day Karalis, the gym, Alesha Bass, you know, those things. These are these are black you know, black photographers that, you know, fell in love with photography, but understood that it was a powerful tool to digest your surroundings, but also regurgitate it to the rest of the world, where you can start affecting different spaces based off your own personal experience and allow people to see what you stand, to give your viewpoint and your vantage point.

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Devin Allen
And at first we just started off, you know, I always thought that this is life, this is it is what it is. This is Baltimore. You know, I can't change anything about this. You know, people die, you know, the drug issues, you know, you know the mass incarceration. You know, I have a lot of friends that are in jail.

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Devin Allen
A lot of friends have been murdered. You know, this is life. This is what it is. And my mentality, which is always survival of the fittest, I'm just here to survive and live it day by day, you know, and plan my life past 21. But then when I found photography, you know, and in sadly enough, you know, Mike Brown passed away, you know, and I went to go document that, you know, and and that's when I really understood a quote that going past was saying that his weapon was the camera against everything that he hated that was unjust or, you know, things in the universe that he had to get systematic racism and poverty and

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Devin Allen
everything that he hated. I never understood. And so I got behind that lens and I shot my first protest, you know, and the whole time that I've been documenting my community, but I've been empowering, you know, my community. And I think about how people get and self-reflect on imagery and feel proud in a moment to be black and that experience.

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Devin Allen
And that's when I started to understand, you know, the power of a photograph. Now, as I work, that the work is not even about me. It's about my community and uplifting and agitating and not even if I don't have any words to put with it. But I'm able to bring things to the forefront, issues, you know, like gentrification.

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Devin Allen
You know, I'm able to document, you know, disappear in communities that, you know, this corner store was hit I remember walking to it is no longer there all these projects were here and I document that and families can have those those images those images to say, oh, I remember growing up in this whole family portraits, you know, and then like the same thing I'm starting to realize, you know, you know, I've been able to sit with the work workers like in Kobe, you know, a lot of my friends, I lost like two friends.

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Devin Allen
But it's like, you know, recently my friend Baby Jay and my friend Robbie. So but I have like these beautiful photographs of them that people repost and people use, you know, or my uncle who passed away from COVID, you know, his image was used for the obituary. And I find a lot of my peers but it is these images and that that that bittersweet taste that that but the fact that this imagery stands the test of time that people can we re you know reflect on their loved ones and things like that.

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Devin Allen
So like a lot of times I find that I, I just, you know, just try to document everything around me. And then as things start to come together, they become political. Yeah. You know, because at the end of the day, these things become economic. And in affects my community. So like a lot of times where I start off with just like these things affect me, gun violence affect me.

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Devin Allen
So I want to go out, you know, and shoot these things or, you know, the, the, the opiate academic that people talk about. You know, I want to show people that this has been an issue in Baltimore. So I start documenting those things. And so it comes political.

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So I have one thing in it that and I think I kind of one I want to touch on this where I think by who you are, naturally, you're a black male from this area. Naturally, it's just like it's baked in this. This is what I care about. These are things that are important to me. So if you're into what I'm doing, maybe it resonates with you, maybe it doesn't.

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Or maybe this is something that's new to you. Enjoy, you know? And I think people will appreciate the the art was being produced, but there's like, oh, why do you have to put this on it? This is me. This is all of this is me. So if you want to like you said, you know, shooting the home is like roll the dice on this.

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Like, this is this is what I this is what I'm saying. It's my reality. Yeah. Yes. So now let's be going. Let's see. What do you think the role is? Because you touched on like some of that, some of the shooting that you did. So what is the role of a photographer or a photojournalist during political uprisings or social justice movements?

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Because you were out there, you are in this video. I was like my man.

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Devin Allen
Yeah, I've been out for a long time. Has been time flies, you know? You know, you think about I came out in 2014 was my first protest that I document I've been doing it no now I was 21. I've been able to do a lot of amazing things. And and what I find is definitely last year was a very trying time for me as a person.

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Devin Allen
Dad had to who, who was on the front lines and had to watch the news when Obama called us, my youth and people, my the younger generation, my community, thugs or, you know, the backlash behind the bottom up writing or how they tried to drag Freddie Gray's name through the mud of a pocket knife or talk about, you know, these things and the lack of support from spaces.

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Devin Allen
You know, that people that you know, who claim Black Lives Matter, who uses that overarching hashtag still was not standing in the solidarity with with Baltimore. You know, I think the most solidarity of Baltimore felt was from Ferguson, you know, and his support from Ferguson, where, you know, people came up from Ferguson or we understood each other's plight at that time.

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Devin Allen
And, you know, our city had erupted in recent years, you know, around that time. But, you know, you look at George Floyd and we on a tale of how the whole country erupted and now everybody is up to arms. It was kind of like I was proud. But at the same time, it's just like I've I've seen interviews where people were like, I want to get that Devin Allen shot.

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Devin Allen
And it's like, who wants to really be in that space? You know, a lot of people don't understand that. That was one of the darkest times in my life as an artist. I was suicidal or PTSD. I was being harassed by police, depression, anxiety. I was sick, you know, but but every day I came out, I sat in every interview.

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Devin Allen
I was on the front lines every day because it had to be done, you know, but who but who wants to really be there? But when you have that call to action has to be there. But like now, was this so glamorized and it's so commercial? You know, it's it's a little different. It hit different. You know, last year it was really trying for me, you know, just also just talking to our photographers that that that struggle with that because when, you know, it wasn't a commodity when I got my time and a lot of people think that I they thought I was a lot people thought I was a well-seasoned journalist.

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Devin Allen
I was like, no, I picked up a camera in 2013 cause my grandmother gave me a Best Buy credit card and I start shooting. And somewhere Freddie Gray died. I was two years into taking pictures. I put my work on social media and it just turned into that. And I was able to turn it into a youth program and give back.

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Devin Allen
I've never left Baltimore. I never live anywhere else. I've been for 32 years. You know, and I didn't, you know, and a lot of people get that. Well, you know, he works for brands now. He works all these things. But I'm still on the ground every single day, you know, and that's a difference. Like a lot of people, a lot of artists, you know, they put me in different veins and answer me.

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Devin Allen
The art is I can still roam and post up in the hood like me. You're still run around, go to the club, still do the things that I do, but I think is very vital. You know, if you want to call me activist or concerned citizen, the fact that I understand that why I'm here then is the work that I've been able to do is being able to my activism is is elevating the next generation.

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Devin Allen
So now you've got Keith understand the power of writing, the power photography, the power of moving and thinking outside of box, the power of you have a voice you have to sit by. You have social media, which is very, very powerful that can be detrimental or very strong because.

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It's a weapon. It's a.

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Devin Allen
Weapon. You know how you can use to build or destroy, you know? So like I think the power of photography a lot of time is us. We have to realize that we have to definitely going to do the work that we do. Yeah. You know, for me, yes, I'm a photographer. I make money. That's something I understood that I needed to remove the activism and the work, the commercial work that I do.

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Devin Allen
Yeah. So the first thing that I did was, you know, I went to commercial route, but I, the work that I create is free.

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Yeah.

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Devin Allen
You know, you can't pay me to go shoot. My homeboys would just put on a block or go to a protest. I'm going on my own. Yeah, I'm not going on assignments. I'm going on my own.

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You're not. You're not there for hire, you know, I'm just doing my thing.

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Devin Allen
No. And then if somebody like to work and they say I want to put it in its place, all right, we can do that. But just make sure that I how much I own all my work cause I need to own the the the the narrative around it because I don't want I don't want people telling me what I saw or creating a story around me that's not true or false.

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Devin Allen
Right. So I think a lot of times it's photographers. When we do this work, I find that a lot of my peers and people do those where we have to put our personal gains to the side, Oh, we're artists. We still need to make money, but we need to understand that when when you're in those spaces, you are a vessel, you are a conduit.

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Devin Allen
Because beyond the movement.

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One one of the things I remember and I was like, All right, I want to meet this dude, because it was it was a video outside. I was just like same energy because it.

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Devin Allen
Was closing because of somebody out.

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It, right.

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Devin Allen
A bit catching the guy would tell him to leave.

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Yeah. And it was just like it was at that time. I just remember a lot of really weird things that were happening and stuff is being documented, right? Like I was, I've been podcasting for 13 years, so I was podcasting then and I was doing one or two shows when that Freddie Gray news was put out there initially.

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And kind of I think what you were touching on is like, well, this were Baltimore. You know, I was just kind of what happens. And then as it blew up, we were covering it, we were talking about it like regularly. And people would hit me in a DMS. Why can't you talk about something different? This isn't as interesting a blog as a blog.

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And so you have that right. And I was like, No, you don't live my experience. I see that shit all the time. This, this could be me. Like I'm twice that guy size. This could easily or on the other side of it like last year, having people literally hit me up and like, you've never experienced this. You're, you're well-meaning black guy was like, Yeah, don't say that.

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Why don't you know, like, can we and it's just one of those things where you're kind of going back to what I was saying. People will appreciate what you're putting out there, the art, the content, but they want to somehow separate you from it, you as a person. And those two things are inextricably linked. You walk like you're choosing to go to these things based on what your experiences, what your interests may be, the same as what I might want to cover.

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And I'll say this one piece of advice and kind of that like Gordon Parks sort of way. That way you said you were influenced. I got a piece of advice from someone local here from AVM, Rebecca Hornberger, and she mentioned the thing about like I do a comedy podcast and but we're talking about news and I try to put like a more comedic spin on news stories that aren't the easiest thing.

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And she was like, Yeah, the best way to get people to listen is sometimes you gotta make them laugh and you had to think about it. And that's the thing that I've kind of perfected over this time. Yep. So what in your experience, what is the most useful photographic mantra like you just get the shot. What is that?

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What is that mantra for you? What is that like philosophy you have when you're out there shooting?

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Devin Allen
Yeah, I have so many different approaches on how I'm shooting. Do you know for me what I found is just that works for me. I like smaller cameras, you know, I hate, you know, large cameras. You know, like when I first thought I was like, I need the biggest equipment, the biggest lens. I need the biggest camera. You know, it's the same thing of a god, you know, for our he I mean, I even dropped out of my escalate camera, you know, and what I find is like, you know, I was I wasted so much money buying things that didn't just remove me from just living in the moment.

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Devin Allen
You know, too many lenses, too many cameras, too much, too much of something, you know? And a lot of people I'm gonna go, you know, I get portable time. You shoot like it's so expensive. And then it was like I get it. But, you know, one thing I learned, but it's expensive, but it's going to last a long time, you know?

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Devin Allen
You buying it. I'm buying into this brand and that brand supports me. But, you know, it's the simplicity of it. You know, I needed a tool that allows me to live in the moment. So like when I'm shooting, what I find is sometimes my favorite photographers and not is they're people, people you know, they know how to. I can move in a lot of different space and that's what Gordon was very good at.

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Devin Allen
He can move in a white space, a black space, a Latin American space, all black, brown, blue, white, purple. He could not not conform, but had to understand him, you know. You know. So like what I find is when allows me to take good pictures, the fact that I'm able to remove myself and live in the moment. So no matter what the equipment is, how can I make my subject feel comfortable about me?

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Devin Allen
How can I make them trust me? How? And you know, sometimes you only got a short window to do that. Yeah. You know, so a lot of time, you know, it's all about, you know, just energy, you know, and reading people, you know, like and I always judge people. I this one on my mind. And I have a lot of mantras for as much as I shoot with my heart, you know, not my eyes.

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Devin Allen
I stick by that, you know, you know. And I found that out about myself when I went to Salzburg, Austria, where Fred Lazar is the president of America. Yeah, DNA hanging. You know, I got my passport and Twitter fits in. I literally been West Baltimore, you know and then went to Woodlawn lived in lie on the Ferris aluminum was like in New York on a megabus.

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Devin Allen
I went to North Carolina for a friend reunion and I went to this all weekend in Miami back in the day with the homies. That's the most I've ever traveled. But no, after the passing of Freddie Gray to time covers and my whole career was, it allowed me to travel know. So when I went over there I snuck into a Syrian refugee camp and when I went in there because I didn't know anything about Syria.

00;18;09;20 - 00;18;23;07
Devin Allen
What is Syria? I didn't know anything. I really I didn't know anything about the world. But I was just so when I heard about those issues that was going on, I wanted to know, you know, cause I always felt like Baltimore was a unique place. And while I lived in this little small bubble. Yeah, so I snuck into it and that's I was document.

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Devin Allen
It was. I really can't stand to tell their story. I didn't have enough time to sit and because connection I didn't feel that I had the right to tell it. So you know what I did? I put my camera down and that's my development. A mantra as a photographer, sometimes it's good to know when to put the camera down.

00;18;37;16 - 00;18;57;08
Devin Allen
Just living to live in that moment. Yeah. Sometimes it's good to take, you know, come from behind that viewfinder, put the camera down and just live in the moment and take in the energy, the positivity, the knowledge that can be welcomed. So sometimes you got to put the camera down. And that's what I do. I just like when I hang out a lot, I don't do photo walks and stuff.

00;18;57;08 - 00;19;13;02
Devin Allen
That stuff that's like so corny. I mean, I walk around with a whole bunch of photographers and I just can't work like that. That's not me. Because if I'm walking with ten other photographers, I can't get what I want, right? You know, you know, if you do a photo, I know, because like me, I'm like, no, I'm very good at predicting what a person's about to do.

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Devin Allen
So I can literally like it's weird but I can people I people watch like how people watch birds I watch people I can watch a guy walking down the street and I'm like, Well, he's about to drink that soda, so I will hurry up and get in a position to snap. But he won't even normally. Yeah, you know, I'm, you know, so like, you're sniper.

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Exactly.

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Devin Allen
But like some stories I'm not meant to tell, so I'll put the camera down and I just live in it like I go to other people, cities. I like to think about photographers. Let me learn about your city. You know, I just was in Brooklyn with the homie. I was taking pictures of them. They are homies, but I wouldn't take them pictures of random people on a block.

00;19;45;16 - 00;20;03;19
Devin Allen
I was taken in the knowledge. No, these projects are just this is these projects. This is the historical value. So like lots of I have a certain level of respect because I hate when people pass, shoot in my community, stop taking pictures with the lack of understanding. So when I go to different communities, if I don't have understanding, I'll have time to understand or whatever.

00;20;04;04 - 00;20;05;09
Devin Allen
I won't take pictures that.

00;20;05;18 - 00;20;18;18

I like that because that's, that's the way I approach, like getting that. I like to get dipped, I like to get dipped in the cultures. Like, yeah, let me like I could sit here, I could talk with people and do the man on the street. I don't I don't really like that either. I don't really get the vibe off of that from my medium, right.

00;20;18;25 - 00;20;34;29

Of like, hey, miss, what do you think about this? Who am I here? And again, it's like one of those things where people will listen to this podcast and like, how do you get to know these people? How do you talk to us? Like, I'm trying desperately to say, I'm cool, I'm interesting. Let's talk and try to be in a very short period of time.

00;20;34;29 - 00;20;52;08

Yeah, that's that's the only way I can try to relate to it on that level. But definitely going to a space and it's certain things that I like if I go to a different city, but like I like New Orleans, I go there, this would be my fifth time going there and I pretty much go to the same places every time.

00;20;52;08 - 00;21;07;12

Where's the art? Where's the booze? That's what I don't. Yeah. And, but I still feel like I know the place. So if I said that I wanted to relocate there or I'm going to be a part of some podcast thing there, I can't speak on certain things because I don't know certain things exactly. I can relate in a certain way.

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You're black guy is in some art. Sure ways to crawdads, but that's about it.

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Devin Allen
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I think that's and that's a thing that, you know any time I think about photographers in spaces, you know, I think about like the photo Dres who's amazing the Joshua Kesey's know these guys have come to Baltimore and you know, you know, like with some of the homies or if they have linked with me, you know, like Oakland is like I love Oakland.

00;21;30;08 - 00;21;47;12
Devin Allen
So like I go to Logan Island, go with my boy rough draft and to some of my Ava homies, you know and and take me out, you know, and take me around, introduce me to people and stuff. You know, I just try to be respectful and conscious of what, you know, what's going on in that community. Because even though it's a black, it's a ghetto, it's the hood, but it's not my eyes.

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Devin Allen
So as I end of the day, I don't want to go take a picture. I'm a person I don't fully understand, you know. Now, if I'm that's why a lot of times with my work, I like to work a lot. People are y you never title your work. It's just like, I don't want to hide it because I want you to proceed.

00;21;59;28 - 00;22;19;27
Devin Allen
I want you to decide what you see. I'm putting it in front of you. But what do you feel? What do you see? I find that a lot of times when I give something, a title or a caption, it loses. It shuts off certain things in your brain. So if I say if I take a picture of a dog and I say, that's a you know, and it was it might not be an egg to you.

00;22;20;03 - 00;22;24;05
Devin Allen
It might be black and white. You might see something totally different. You might, you know, see something totally different.

00;22;24;06 - 00;22;25;26

A dog brother.

00;22;25;26 - 00;22;35;05
Devin Allen
That ain't a chick, you know, you might see something different. So a lot of times I love photography that is like I can take this image, put it in front of you and then you can digest it and it might affect you a different way.

00;22;35;10 - 00;22;53;09

I think that's that's good because there's no right or wrong way because I think too often and I want to talk about one other thing real quick. I think too often we are looking for that right answer, especially when it comes to art and all appreciation and consumption is like, well, that's what they were meaning here. They, they didn't say anything, you know, the artist.

00;22;53;17 - 00;23;11;06

And I think the other thing that you touched on, going back to your mantra that I think is really important and I want to echo it, is living in a moment that is key, especially now, because you ever have one of those moments, I don't know if you got into meditation or anything, but that was something that I've tried to do more.

00;23;11;06 - 00;23;27;07

And when there was, there's a just a wag period of time, like it's like a shitty energy floating around. So I just need to, I need to do anything for a few minutes and it just turns it right back on, turns that creative button back on, and it allows me to just. You're here, you're on the floor, you're in a cockpit.

00;23;27;07 - 00;23;46;21

You play in the cockpit. It's nice to smooth. It's great. And then you're back. And I think right now, because everything is so instantaneous, instant gratification and has only gotten worse, that we don't have that time to really live in the moment and absorb like like people don't deal with apples taste like for sake of argument anymore because they could just move to whatever the next thing is.

00;23;48;07 - 00;24;02;08

Let's talk about influences real quick. You touched on Gordon Parks a few times, I'm going to assume, but I feel free to add. So who are your photographic influences now and who are your non-football influences?

00;24;02;17 - 00;24;20;05
Devin Allen
Yeah, you know, going past like that's a guy that I always I wanted to be here. Like, that's like my idol. I never got to meet him, but I've been blessed enough to be the first, you know, Gordon Parks, fellow of his, you know, nonprofit. I've been able to go through his archive. My work is in his permanent collection.

00;24;20;23 - 00;24;38;04
Devin Allen
They donated me a $10,000 grant to teach inner city kids with autism intellectual disabilities photography bought some cameras and everything, you know. So, like a lot of the things that I do, you know, just because he's my idol, I want to, like, check things off boxes. I want to direct movies. I want to do the things that he did.

00;24;38;04 - 00;25;01;08
Devin Allen
You know, he's my idol, you know, and even like photographer, I always, you know, look at a past where a lot of things were like the Anthony Barboza is, you know, a lot of people remember he was shooting, you know, Miles Davis and all those people. But even all we have to ask about do you know a lot of black photographers, you know, black male and female photographers not getting, you know, the the level of, you know, love that they should have been getting not.

00;25;01;08 - 00;25;02;01

Getting those flowers.

00;25;02;06 - 00;25;18;11
Devin Allen
Not getting those flowers when they should have. You know, and I look at like, you know, Robert Houston, who passed away, April, who was most known for documenting the poorest people campaign, who was like a never mentor, who started going to Gordon Parks, but actually got to sit and talk with him, you know, and, you know, got his blessing.

00;25;18;15 - 00;25;35;01
Devin Allen
You know, you think about a day career is, you know, did Jamal Shabazz who's still alive most known you know if you love hip hop real hip hop you know he was shooting everything back in the eighties and nineties. You know, he was shooting Rikers Island because he was a CEO. He would take his camera to work, you know.

00;25;35;20 - 00;25;53;19
Devin Allen
And so a lot of those older guys are like big influences, you know? But one of my biggest things is when I'm working, I love music. So like a lot of times, like one thing is like my mom is probably one of the biggest people that my mom and my grandmother always had one hand on my shoulder. So if I was messing up and I was doing wrong, they held me accountable.

00;25;53;19 - 00;26;05;03
Devin Allen
And when I'm doing right, they push me forward. You know, that's the saying to this day. You know, my mom put me on a girl, Scott Heron, and that's one of my my favorite. I don't even nobody say I said I hate if one of the first rappers.

00;26;05;03 - 00;26;05;20

Absolutely.

00;26;05;23 - 00;26;10;03
Devin Allen
You know when he was his different and he used on some dish tracks back then that was no.

00;26;10;05 - 00;26;13;27

No see your project dance school. My guy Gil Scott-Heron.

00;26;13;27 - 00;26;38;20
Devin Allen
Was going was calling out you know why are stealing black art like he was he was way ahead of his time. No. Nina Simone, you know the first Nina Simone Baltimore about Nina Simone. Mike Baltimore. She was singing about Baltimore back then, you know, so I dove into a lot of music. But also right now, just like my peers, though, I, you know, just watching people I'm coming out with that come from similar backgrounds came in not always similar but you know my boy I'm Donny.

00;26;38;20 - 00;26;56;10
Devin Allen
I that's my brother. You know, like you're watching him as a writer coming out of downhill east Baltimore amazing writer. Yeah Dirac is OG that's like my my big brother. The first time we was we met was almost 15 years ago and he was about to fight a fight at a bar and they end up becoming like a big brother and a mentor, you know?

00;26;56;10 - 00;27;21;10
Devin Allen
And I'm like the The Godfather of his, you know, like his child. His wife was like my manager. So it's like, you know, it was like and then have him a person like him, you know, he just how he worked on Carmelo Anthony. And they brought me in, you know, because of my relationship with Melo and and people that I know, you know, the people like that is watching them, like, just come up and it's like I'm living in is this area just like, you know, people just go and do stuff, you know, you brought up like I killed, you know, like that's my dog.

00;27;21;10 - 00;27;48;22
Devin Allen
Like, you know, we we like basically like cousins, you know. So, you know, him doing video, picking his shoes. You know, you got you got just like so many artists that I can go for days and just like, even just like people that are like painting, like, you know, you think about people like Derrick Adams who from pockets to move in New York almost 20 something years ago killing them up in New York now for years OG did Jeffrey Chance you know how Selma how that taught me how to paint because I'm painting I'm moving into other spaces.

00;27;49;03 - 00;28;06;20
Devin Allen
You know, I think about, you know, Swiss beats gave me my first like am, you know, when he met me and that's the camp I still have. I put it up but my own and now I'm signed with like a, you know, and I work with them for a time, you know, people like him or Steph Curry, you know, me him became brothers from traveling to Asia, support it, you know, a lot of the things.

00;28;06;20 - 00;28;24;18
Devin Allen
So a lot of times my inspiration is coming from so many different places. I just love people that do good things, you know, and a big that I love people that I know. There was a life in, you know, me coming from, you know, like I'm not a perfect person, you know, like a lot of us come from, you know, we don't been through a lot, lost a lot of friends things, some things that we prior shouldn't have seen, you know, growing up.

00;28;24;18 - 00;28;42;10
Devin Allen
But we were able to take those lessons and learn from the streets and then be great. You know, I love seeing people like Stokie, you know, that man was locked up from the hood. You know, that's like big bro to have him even just running for mayor says a lot. You know, you look at his son and you look at Robby Scola, amazing rapper.

00;28;42;10 - 00;29;15;01
Devin Allen
You look at what Chino is doing. That's my dad. Taken dirt bike to a whole nother level, you know. But if you look at people like Britney Young, who's teaching kids how to and how to engineer and build dirt bikes from scratch, doing campaigns with Nike, you look at cool, you know, he's cool Tuesdays when he's, you know, getting people out and running around, bikes around a city and giving back to car wash is you can you just so much going on in Baltimore where people that's what I think Freddie Gray inspired a lot of people in and gave our voices to so many people where we just like well we skid it back.

00;29;15;01 - 00;29;46;00
Devin Allen
We're going to hold ourselves accountable and be the change that we want to see. So like people like yo yo, you could be in your you can be in L.A., but I'm like, man, Baltimore is my home. Like, I've been here all my life. I want to come up bootstraps with these guys, you know, because so I can break years later, you know, when a next generation coming up, you got people like Roddy Rags, you got, you know, Raji Tax, you got the Larry Love you got black Wall Street with we're scared and you got you know it is so much going on you got black swan Chris got the black swan thing going black

00;29;47;00 - 00;30;02;02
Devin Allen
and Harvey East just look at all these beautiful things that's coming up in Baltimore. You know, you got you got, you know Aaron Jones tailor shop, you know, on K Street and go get Taylor. These are black owned businesses and black owned people doing amazing things.

00;30;02;02 - 00;30;34;01

That's that's one of the things like you touched on where it's one of those things where people are like, Oh, you poppin, you should move. There's like, not like for me. For me, like there have been opportunities presented itself and I was like, that's going to do it here is going to matter more to me here. And, you know, I've been here Lafayette projects, you know, so I, I was like, people never think over for the A project, but it's one of those things like it matters much more doing it here and doing it around because there's, there's a realism here with the people we like.

00;30;34;17 - 00;30;42;05

I always joke about I don't know how successful people from Baltimore can be because we don't do the fake shit. So it's like.

00;30;43;04 - 00;31;00;03
Devin Allen
This another mantra, like, you know, like, what's that old saying from New York? Five You can make it in the big avenue. Make any way where I say if you if you can make it out of Baltimore, you can make it anywhere. And I'm telling you from Baltimore, I've, I've I've traveled to Tokyo and ran into people from Baltimore.

00;31;00;08 - 00;31;16;19
Devin Allen
Nice things about Baltimore people. I feel like we are very unique and we can survive anywhere like for real. Like I'm looking at like with the homie Paul like we haven't been to the several, you know, I went to his birthday party. I think you saw so many beautiful black people like my homegirl. AJ got the clothing line struck.

00;31;16;27 - 00;31;33;10
Devin Allen
Paul got a black owned restaurant in Mount Vernon. Like, I'm telling you, Amy, if a black person just has the knowledge and they learn how to maneuver, they can survive anywhere. And in definitely coming from Baltimore, you know, a lot of our ancestors came from our great grandparents came from North Carolina. Everywhere I go, they say, you from Baltimore.

00;31;33;10 - 00;31;44;28
Devin Allen
I know you are suffering from North Carolina, so all of us do. But I just feel like Baltimore. We got to our hustle, which is unmatched, you know. And then everywhere I go in the world, they love us. They love us, period.

00;31;45;04 - 00;31;59;03

Yeah. I like the last time I was down in New Orleans and it was like you from BMO and I was like, I know how you, bro. And he was just like, I notice I was like, how you what I'm, you know, he's like, son about you just like here. And I was like, I'd like to where.

00;31;59;05 - 00;32;01;13
Devin Allen
They made you say due to actually about the wire.

00;32;01;23 - 00;32;17;23

Oh look now what's more get mad. Those two are too much. Yeah. And it was funny because for for that like one of my, my high school teachers is one of the writers on the joint or what have you. So I was like, Yeah, I have an extra special connection to it, you know, too. I, yeah, yeah. My, my girl is like rewatching it right now.

00;32;17;27 - 00;32;18;22
Devin Allen
Oh, oh.

00;32;18;27 - 00;32;23;14

So I didn't have this perspective living in the county now living in the city, this makes sense.

00;32;23;23 - 00;32;40;03
Devin Allen
But yeah, you know, it's crazy because now they have film in the same right is filming we own a city, you know shout out to Dee Watkins who wrote an episode on a nice note. He got a lot of Baltimore people. My boy booster who cleans everybody's sneakers in a city is on air. I'm actually going to be on set on October the second playing myself.

00;32;40;16 - 00;32;56;15
Devin Allen
You know, I'm playing, playing myself, reenacting. And, you know, I think it's important, you know, that do a little cameo but you know, I do why opened up a lot of doors for the community despite you know some of the truth that is about the city was brought to the forefront, but it did open up a lot of doors for a lot of people.

00;32;56;27 - 00;33;13;22
Devin Allen
And, you know, like I tell the everywhere I go, I like his words in a way by the same name. You kind of Baltimore. One thing about Baltimore, you know, the love is unmatched by you know, a lot of times people understand, you know, like, oh, Baltimore, you're going to die in get shot. This ain't ain't no gang violence, no drive bys, no good.

00;33;14;06 - 00;33;39;05
Devin Allen
You can kind of but you know, I've brought people to Baltimore from all over the place and they just get blown away by the food, the love, the generosity, the fact that people speak, you know, like my boy moved out here from Harlem and we were the unknown together. And, you know, people keep saying, hello, good morning. And I'm like, you know, you know, people speak here, you make eye contact, you know, in certain spaces like viewing in a life where you might get that little smile, you know, your smile.

00;33;39;11 - 00;33;55;20
Devin Allen
I don't see how we make eye contact, but we speak here. So like the energy in Baltimore is very infectious. And everybody I've known that's not from Baltimore that have lived here for a short period of time and go wherever they go. Bottom line, these a special, you know, spot in their.

00;33;55;20 - 00;34;13;19

Heart so in it and this this is a had loved one because I have not gotten a good answer to this one. I think you're going to have one for me. And what which nickname do you prefer for Baltimore Charm City, the greatest city ever, a city that reads, which didn't work. What do you what do you have in mind for that one?

00;34;13;19 - 00;34;18;24

I know this one is off the cuff, but it is interesting. You might even have your own. You might even make one up. I don't know.

00;34;19;09 - 00;34;33;06
Devin Allen
Though. The crazy part about it is like I ain't never know why people call it a Charm City. I'm like, Well, I just thought that was the name of the football teams, like the old Charm City football team. Like, you know, I hate when people say be more like, I hate that you two. Yes, I hate be more like I hate.

00;34;33;08 - 00;34;34;06
Devin Allen
You'll be more.

00;34;34;16 - 00;34;34;25

Like.

00;34;35;09 - 00;34;54;27
Devin Allen
My anger. Hold you like my favorite is my boy, B.J. He got a store down to South Baltimore. You know, Baltimore, legit. He coined the term. He makes the West Baltimore east Baltimore has more with the D so instead of you know is instead of the T is the D is like Baltimore and it's like that's how I say it.

00;34;54;27 - 00;35;17;25
Devin Allen
So that's how that's that's my term. I say Baltimore. And when people say You mean Baltimore, am I not Baltimore? Like, say Baltimore like, hey, be more I hate the city. I rise like I remember that campaign, No Child Left Behind and all that. Like I may be more like greatest city in America. When I found out, the story behind it was just like, Yo, they got that from Atlanta.

00;35;17;26 - 00;35;22;17
Devin Allen
Like, you know, we got that from Atlanta. That was from something that one of them, mayor, saw it in Atlanta and brought it back.

00;35;22;20 - 00;35;34;14

Marketing campaigns which have have not worked because I remember like what is it like maybe 2010, a little bit before that when we were first talking about doing gambling and shit here, you're like, Oh yeah, Baltimore, get in on it. It's like.

00;35;34;14 - 00;35;34;25
Devin Allen
No.

00;35;34;29 - 00;35;36;12

No, get rid of that. You get it out of here.

00;35;36;12 - 00;35;40;14
Devin Allen
I don't want to just Baltimore. Like I just like I like to say Baltimore.

00;35;40;15 - 00;35;47;14

Because that's the real black side. That's the real one. It's like like it's like the head butt, you know, with no hair a more, you know, like that's it yeah.

00;35;47;17 - 00;36;07;25
Devin Allen
Like my homegirls to yo yeah I'm a come up with to be more like Narcisse like don't say that like you don't say that you know yeah just say Baltimore and we go like we won't, you know, nicknames. We only know slogans, you know, Baltimore, you know, and then we got certain terms that I like. I love the word Dragon Place, Dragon like, you know.

00;36;07;25 - 00;36;26;26
Devin Allen
And I the first time I heard Dragon was like some our little home. I'm a homeboy from now, like, North Long named Dragon. I loved dummy like a dummy. I love it. Even me like I love like, oh, I'm and I'm being around. I'm like, I love our slang. So, like, you can have a whole conversation in Baltimore time and a person will not know what you talking about.

00;36;26;26 - 00;36;42;00
Devin Allen
And it was just, Oh, I'm giving around, I'm dragging a damn out. See, I'm sorry you from back then you had crowds. You always crowd the club crouch tonight like I just love I'm jealous. I love our culture. Like I feel like we just so unique. Like we're the best thing in the DMV, the most authentic, the most real good.

00;36;42;09 - 00;36;42;24
Devin Allen
I love it.

00;36;43;02 - 00;36;57;10

My my girls were in New York, and when we first started dating, she's five from she's from Brooklyn and we first started dating. She was like, I don't think you're from Baltimore. That's like, what do you mean she's like, as you just said, Baltimore with all of the letters. Right? How about you? Fuck you. And it was certain things.

00;36;57;10 - 00;37;07;03

I was like, I say, dog and all of that. She's like, Huh? She's like, say, orange. I was like, Oh shit. She had a new what? That was it expected. She was like, You're going to see it in like a I.

00;37;07;04 - 00;37;15;17
Devin Allen
Was like, Oh my read. You say, oh, it's like, Oh no, I hate people say, oh, which is like some people like which I'm like not only well, I do say I do pussy it, you know.

00;37;15;29 - 00;37;40;16

But the color of the feeling. So last two questions I got over the last 18 months, a lot, 18 plus a lot has happened, good and bad. Regardless, I think that there's opportunity to learn something from these things. The good the bad things. Sure. Anything that you've experienced during that time that had a lesson, a company that like you know, was it something with like the under armor situation?

00;37;40;16 - 00;37;48;05

Was it something in some of the work that you've done that could have been good, could have been bad, but you got something out of it that, you know, you learned a lesson from it.

00;37;48;05 - 00;38;11;19
Devin Allen
I'm think is the thing is, like a lot of times I mamas I learned so much from my mistakes in a move and wrong you know I think a lot of times people make mistakes and do things wrong or maneuver wrong. I think the issue is when you don't sit with those mistakes in those bad moves, you can't learn from when people went in and you celebrate all your wins and winning and winning.

00;38;11;19 - 00;38;27;20
Devin Allen
Yeah, they'll celebrate my wins. But when you lose, are you sitting with that loss though? You know, like I fail so many times, make so many mistakes, not even down to just picking the wrong friends like it, just all being in the wrong circles or being around the wrong people or, you know, is a person that's very social.

00;38;27;20 - 00;38;45;14
Devin Allen
Like, I know everybody in Baltimore, I'm very popular, you know, and I'm a really nice person. So, like, I try to show everybody love, you know? And I think what I, what I, what I learned is, like, everybody had the same moral compass, you know? And that's something that I learned. But I had to sit with that and understand, like, why why people do do certain things because they're not raised.

00;38;45;14 - 00;39;03;27
Devin Allen
Like I'm raising men to the thing that I've been through. And a lot of times I will alienate spaces that I grew up in. I thought because I became an artist that I needed to be around other artists, but I forgot the hood is what inspired me. Let me get back to my roots. Let me get back to what inspired and what gave me the hustle.

00;39;03;27 - 00;39;22;13
Devin Allen
What gave me that that the velocity with gave me the love, you know, the admiration. So, you know, like if I one point at time I was just ripping and running with my little crew, you know, far as like art is and hanging on to certain sayings. But then, you know, as you know, as the work progressed and stuff and then, you know, I was like, you know, like I had to get back to my roots.

00;39;22;13 - 00;39;37;07
Devin Allen
Like I had to really go back outside, post up on our block. You know, I thought that success meant I had to remove myself from these spaces. And there's, like, never had to remove myself. I just had to be conscious of my surroundings, you know, that something that you know, and things like my mom is my best friend and we sit and talk about it.

00;39;37;15 - 00;39;52;26
Devin Allen
Yes, a certain things I no longer can do. Like I can't sit on a block and smoke block on the block, you know, like do certain things like, you know had to be. I have to understand that I am a role model, you know, that kids look to me. So I have to do have a maneuver. I still need to be my authentic self.

00;39;53;16 - 00;40;16;24
Devin Allen
So I still had to get back to that. You know, and I found myself like in spaces and doing things that was not genuine, authentic to myself. And I felt I was losing myself even down to creating art, you know, how to create art, how to create. Because I can take pictures because that's what I love. But it it became so much of a business where I was creating work because I knew that I was social media wanted to see.

00;40;16;25 - 00;40;34;12
Devin Allen
I wasn't no longer creating for myself. So people expect it. Certain work for me and I gave it to them instead of keeping like that that young childhood self that just was created to create, to make Thomas work. Yeah, you know, and I had to get back to the bone, the gristle about why I create in the first place.

00;40;34;12 - 00;40;53;08
Devin Allen
It was to help me, you know, with my life and, and experience life and all those other things. And that's one of my lessons that I learned. And then, you know, as I sit and I talked you I talked to a lot of kids, it's like one of my biggest things is being like are role models, are kids like, you know, making myself accessible.

00;40;53;09 - 00;41;11;08
Devin Allen
I can go to the school, sit on a zoom, call with these kids, can get them gyms for me so they don't have to go through a lot of the things that I went through or see some of the things that I've seen, you know, so I had to make time for it. I got so busy. I need to continue to push this and push that.

00;41;11;08 - 00;41;14;11
Devin Allen
Like, No, I take a step back. I lost the joy in creating.

00;41;14;11 - 00;41;34;26

And is that important because you're touching how important has it been for you to be able to do that, that thing kind of step back and reconnect with the people, say with source with me, but reconnect with what that view is like, what that reasoning is. Because I think when you start having those wins that you've touched on, you start like This is real.

00;41;34;29 - 00;41;49;04

Yeah. And then you're not really connected with I think because of the wins, why you might be doing something and getting back to that. Is that something that now you or it becomes like a regular practice for you like to re regularly reconnect.

00;41;49;20 - 00;42;10;16
Devin Allen
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. You know, like when I, when I first started this journey, it was on about, you know, it started off as a hobby that honestly, to win it and then it was to make change. You know, it got to the point where I understand that the accolades are very, very important. You know, getting my work into museums, you know, collaborating with brands is a part of being an artist.

00;42;11;04 - 00;42;27;22
Devin Allen
But, you know, a lot of times, you know, that first time cover you, a lot of times you get tired and looking for that next time cover or waiting for that next big pitch or waiting for this next accolade or waiting for the next big show or waiting for this next idea to come across your mind. Yeah, but I'm losing time.

00;42;27;25 - 00;42;42;25
Devin Allen
You know, the thing is about our kids. Our kids move really, really fast. So I have to make sure that I'm still relevant in their space. So, yes, I have to get those accolades, but at the same time, I need to make sure that I am conscious and aware and accessible. The fact that a kid can reach out and touch me, you know?

00;42;42;25 - 00;43;00;24
Devin Allen
So like if I give a kid a camera, it's not just me. Just give you a Cameron. I'm walking away from your life. But if you got a cam from, you can still hit me on the ground. What's up, shorty? You know, and making sure that whatever you know. And really, it came full circle when one of my kids that was in one of my classes, I taught with Rebel, me and my boy, Dee Watkins.

00;43;00;24 - 00;43;22;25
Devin Allen
It started I had seen I turn around doing Corvette. He came down to I started photography down said, you go south Baltimore dad was like that was like my whole was like a young kid. I would be around people like Smash or Smash Gucci Bag Blues, you know, when I was iconic Baltimore Ravens and, you know, people like Jason's recipes and a lot of my peers and this kid had his mass, he's taller than me.

00;43;23;02 - 00;43;37;22
Devin Allen
And they were like, you need to meet Devin now. He right days one no I know you in a photographer video is the guy right? It's like my homeboys bragging about me and he was I mean, I know him, you know him. He gave me a camera and I'm looking like I'm looking. He like he talked to me and I gave you a camera.

00;43;38;22 - 00;43;59;11
Devin Allen
He had a mask on, so he took his mask off. I was like, Oh, shit, you was that my rebel class? And you really said he was like, Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got a four. I got four full at NYU film. Wow, look at my film. This is what I, you know, and now you know, because of course, I'm not going to be on cable by now for right film, you know, and I thank you for giving me the camera.

00;43;59;12 - 00;44;16;24
Devin Allen
And Jimi, you gave me gas when I hit four, so I wasn't actually trying to cry. You know, I got my homeboys around me, like, shukran. You know, I ain't crying. You know, it's doesn't ain't sweatin like allergies, you know? But that's when it came full circle. And then around the same time we was working on a boy was help him working on a book.

00;44;17;07 - 00;44;32;01
Devin Allen
And then I just had this is in with Melo, you know, because of the bubble shooting in Baltimore and stuff like that. So I had to like, you know, finesse it, you know, and I went in around the same time. So my young boys, I mean, but they was my students like five years ago. They both taught it to me and and I took them out.

00;44;32;01 - 00;44;56;01
Devin Allen
I shot them. And it was like my models, the standard models for Melo or whatever, you know, and was just like seeing them go from like these little kids in like middle school in a graduating high school. And the fact that they look at me like a big brother, you know, and they still remember that, you know, as simple things like we all taking pictures and we go down all my color and go to Burger King or something like that, or we walk into the corner store, I'm just coming today who, you know, walking around with them.

00;44;56;12 - 00;45;16;11
Devin Allen
And that's when I started understanding, you know, like the power that I hold, like these kids, like, staying out of trouble because they don't want to disappoint me or they doing right or the fact that parents hit me up and be like, Yo, thank you for doing what you did to my son. You know, like I had one of my one of my kids father was like, come to me, you know, he was doing security at a when I was hélio thank you for looking out for my son and chilling with him.

00;45;16;11 - 00;45;35;16
Devin Allen
Yeah, we really need I work so much you know but you a positive figure. You know I was known as crazy you know, like so like that's that's that's legacy and that's what I want. But Sometimes I do because of my work schedule, because I do understand that me being successful does sway these kids coming out of my wing and wanting to work with me.

00;45;35;24 - 00;45;54;06
Devin Allen
So I try to course because I have my own personal goals as hard as I want to be one of the great photographers artists of my generation, but end of the day, I want it to be when it's all said and done. I'd rather that be measured not in the work that I produce with more so the work that my kids that I've put on impact, my impact in their lives.

00;45;54;06 - 00;46;15;18
Devin Allen
That's what I want to be marginal and of course the work is, oh, we got we're going to Smithsonian, that's cool and all. But if I got like that, I've given out 600 cameras since 2015. But if three of those if five of those kids can end up being the next, you know, Gordon Parks or, you know, Steven Spielberg or, you know, one of these kids can start podcast.

00;46;15;18 - 00;46;33;05
Devin Allen
And then, you know, because a lot of my kids into YouTube, you know, they can be the next Oprah Winfrey like something crazy, you know, because possibilities are endless with these. If I could save a couple of kids, my job is complete and I'm content with that. I can go to sleep and I can leave this plane of existence, be happy knowing that I've planned it.

00;46;33;05 - 00;46;36;06
Devin Allen
See, that's going to blossom over the next couple of years.

00;46;36;18 - 00;46;50;00

That's the legacy. And I think we can wrap it right there. So what I like to do at the end of this is always, always, always is if you need it, but is always give the guest the opportunity to shamelessly plug. So where can you check you have a social media.

00;46;50;18 - 00;47;07;02
Devin Allen
J like my name is David Allen. You know if you want to check out the photography, I'm building a bit of my first website right now with my team. I've got some managers and stuff. Now you need a website, but you know, I'm always on Instagram post and so you want to put up on a gram. You know, I try to respond to a lot of my DMS.

00;47;07;02 - 00;47;34;23
Devin Allen
I do get a lot, but my personal portfolio is on Instagram. You know, that's where I started my whole career and it is very personal. So I love to be on Instagram. So definitely hit me up. It's beauty, diva and arrow and you know, so hit me up. I'm always posting and I'm always and if you in Baltimore, you can you can always catch me like our house or like, you know, bouncing around a city, you know, and if you if you see me, you know, buy me a gin and tonic or something, you know, have a good time.

00;47;34;25 - 00;47;59;16

Watch the IG pretty close. You might encounter some of his smooth dance moves. Yeah, I've seen a few of those two steps, so thank you again, Devin. This is been this has been dope. So for Devin Allen, I'm broadly saying that there's art in and around Baltimore. You just have to look for it.

Creators and Guests

Rob Lee
Host
Rob Lee
naturally curious and a storyteller

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