Activist and photographer Devin Allen is known for capturing the photo of a young black man running from hundreds of armed police in the streets of Baltimore. The photo, featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in 2015, has served as an indictment of race relations and police brutality in America today.
Devin has been instrumental in revealing the depth of pain present in the experience of black people in Baltimore, and for me, he became something of a heroic figure. Without violence, and in the breadth of a second, his craft, photography, empowered him and his community in ways that cannot be ignored. I felt I had to connect with him. Devin’s brand of social change was something I wanted to be a part of.
At times I felt it was absurd to feel so connected to someone that, on paper, was so different than me. I created many stories about why connecting or working together wouldn’t work. Devin, a black man facing danger and ongoing suffering; me, a white woman of privilege facing my own type of pain.
The interest, however, did not fade, and I pursued contact. Presumably, we both want to “end pain,” right? Or at least alleviate suffering? Why not? I attempted many times over the course of two years to bring Devin’s work to ENDPAIN’s audience, and we were finally able to connect. Devin would contribute a photo essay. Even better Devin also wrote a poem. I was thrilled. It felt like a confirmation that interdisciplinary and interracial efforts to heal were real and possible and I could be a part of it.
“Untitled Stress” is the poem I received from Devin. It is raw and true. A glimpse into his mind and heart, processing the pain of discrimination. I was at once bearing witness to Devin’s pain, while at the same time feeling unsettled by some of the language used in the poem: “I think white people hates us because they see us as equal but they don’t want to.”
Presumably, we both want to “end pain,” right? Or at least alleviate suffering? Why not?
Wait—I want to see everyone as equal. How can Devin, someone I admire and respect, make a generalization about all white people? These words weren’t living up to the hero archetype I had created for Devin in my own mind. These words posed a threat to my ideals around how we can heal together. These words stopped me in my process. I decided to sit with the discomfort. I waited until direction came. I knew I couldn’t publish the initial images and poem as they were without fully understanding my own intent.
After a week, I sent Jody Green an email asking if Devin would work with me to expand the piece. In spite of my fear of being the “other” and facing rejection, I decided to challenge Devin to partner with me in a way that would yield a story highlighting both the struggle and the beauty of Baltimore, reminding myself that Devin’s forthcoming book “A Beautiful Ghetto” is titled that for a reason.
I had come to understand Devin as an important artist and catalyst for change. I have felt the presence of both pain and beauty in his images, and I wanted to publish something that would allow for a sense of his personal depth and range of feeling. Through Instagram, I have observed him seeking refuge in nature, developing a spiritual practice, being a dad, son, friend, and philanthropist (through his youth photography program), all while choosing to stay in Baltimore when many offers to leave were available.
Simply put, we would be skimming the surface if we were to share only his role in protests and political resistance. Seeing all of who Devin is made me want to share a story about him that honors the good birthed from the pain—to reveal the possibilities for healing when leaders like Devin show up for their own healing and create pathways for others in their communities. This ideal, however, was held by me alone at that moment. If Devin did not oblige my request for additional images and continue responding to my emails, it would be unclear how to proceed.
I had come to understand Devin as an important artist and catalyst for change. I have felt the presence of both pain and beauty in his images, and I wanted to publish something that would allow for a sense of his personal depth and range of feeling.
I wrote to Devin: “If it’s true that white people don’t want to see black people as equals, how do we change that? How do we work together to challenge that way of being? Your work documenting police violence and protests inspires change by revealing the truth of what is. This helps to create an idea of what should be. Your Instagram feed rotates between protest images, abandoned buildings, dilapidated infrastructure, and portraits. The portraits reveal people in your family, friends, and strangers. These images tell the story of a majestic people, imbuing grace and presence. The juxtaposition of pain and beauty reveals the multi-dimensional angles of the human condition. The dichotomy in your work is evidence that polarizing media coverage misses the mark in capturing the authenticity of what it feels like to be black in Baltimore today: the good and the bad. Thank you, Devin, for creating such a powerful counter story, which contributes to increasing consciousness for all of us.”
Devin has used art to communicate pain in an inspired way, capturing the tone and feeling of moments in history that reveal tragic injustice.
It turns out Devin did respond to my email and was happy to contribute three additional images featuring his daughter, mother, and a friend in Baltimore.
Devin’s willingness to collaborate allowed me the opportunity to work on a piece for ENDPAIN that revealed so much about my own intentions for the change I want to see in myself and the world. It has challenged me to be unafraid to pursue unexpected connections and follow my intuition. Devin has used art to communicate pain in an inspired way, capturing the tone and feeling of moments in history that reveal tragic injustice. For me, his work has provoked a new dream of what should be: a community of humans coming together against injustice, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual preference. May the continuance of activism and art propel us closer to a world with equality for all. May this small collaboration between Devin and ENDPAIN contribute to collective healing, as we bear witness to each other and acknowledge the sincerity of our hearts yearning for change.