Photo Exhibit Documents The Freddie Gray Unrest | WYPR

Photo Exhibit Documents The Freddie Gray Unrest

Jul 11, 2015
Originally published on July 22, 2015 1:01 pm

The unrest after the death of Freddie Gray continues to roil Baltimore. The city’s police union issued a report sharply critical of Commissioner Anthony Batts Wednesday morning. That afternoon, the mayor fired Batts. Now, something different; a free photo exhibit of the unrest has opened at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum downtown. The show's riveting images helped shape our understanding of what was happening in the streets at the time.

Devin Allen, the Baltimore-born amateur photographer who took those pictures, says Freddie Gray's death changed his life. He worked nights and spent his days shooting picture after picture and uploading them to the internet. You’ve seen them just about everywhere, even on the cover of Time.

“I felt I was obligated to do what I did,” Allen said . There's the shot of the protester near Camden Yards sprinting toward the camera, a pack of police in pursuit. That's the one that became the cover of Time. Or the photo of an African-American police officer with tears in his eyes. That's one of Allen's favorites.

"Basically, I was just trying to show the raw essence of the story," Allen said. "Me being a Baltimore native, and being an aspiring photographer, I felt I had to document the story. I knew I could tell the story better than a photographer that's not from here."

Now, gigantic versions of his work are on display at the Lewis Museum.

Allen and the museum staff have pasted the 11-foot high paper reproductions of the shots to the gallery walls. That's right, paper pasted to walls, just like street art; except the Time Magazine cover is now 20 feet wide. The exhibit, Allen’s first, contains 17 images from the streets of Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray.

Allen taught himself photography. He says watching Youtube videos helped a lot. When the protests and rioting broke out in late April, he says he wanted to show everything.

"I wanted to show the rioters' side. I wanted to show the protesters' side. I wanted to show the police officers that were policing, everything that was going on," he said. "I wanted people to feel. You know, I wanted people to think."

There are shots of anger and protest to be sure, but also shots of compassion. Allen points to one of a black protester coming to the aid of a white protester who has just been maced. He's pouring milk into the other guy's eyes.

Allen, only the third amateur ever to land a picture on the cover of Time, says he wants the show, which runs through December 7, to spark conversations. The museum staff has placed chalkboards on the walls, inviting the public to write and reflect.

Now that his first exhibit has been hung, what's next for Devin Allen?

"I want to inspire people to do what I did – for their community," he said. "I want to inspire people to step up. I want to inspire people to create."

And he wants to teach photography to young people in Baltimore City so they can document their world as he has. He's trying to raise $10,000 for cameras and equipment to get that project off the ground.

So, how does a guy with 88,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter 

  raise that kind of money? Naturally, he turns to the Internet – this time with a GoFundMe page.

That makes him a pretty busy guy, but he still was planning to be at the show all day when it opens.

"I can stand here and stare at my work all day. So I'm gonna be here," he said. "You know, all day; as long as they let me. When they close, I'm gone." He chuckled.

You can also meet him at 1 p.m. Saturday when he and fellow activists take part in a panel discussion about the recent unrest. For that day only, museum admission is Pay What You Can.