Essay
Thu 05 Apr 2018 - 12.00

A Young Person Recommends... A Beautiful Ghetto

Devin Allen captured the world’s attention with his iconic photograph of a masked man running away from riot police which was featured on the front cover of Time Magazine. This was monumental for a self-trained photographer who, like many others, uses social media as a platform to circulate his photojournalism. Allen visually documents the everyday lives and culture of his community, conveying a humane portrayal of his home city – Baltimore – which is often negatively misrepresented in mainstream media.

The title of the book, A Beautiful Ghetto, is oxymoronic and suggests that where there is injustice, violence and segregation, there is also a sense of humanity, togetherness and love. This is a troubled community, destroyed by social and economic issues and home to many victims of a corrupt justice system. These photographs illustrate a side to Baltimore that we don’t see in the media; children playing on the swings, a man having his hair cut, people dancing in the street.

The book also features a collection of Allen’s photographs which offer a brutal insight into the ‘Baltimore Uprising’, which was a series of violent protests fuelled by the killing of Freddie Gray. So much of our knowledge comes from what we see in mainstream media outlets, which is often biased and full of false narratives. Through these photographs, Allen is providing this community with a powerful voice. Whilst the violence and poverty present in this area is evident in his work, each photograph instils a sense of pride and unification with the majority of the photographs featuring Baltimore’s residents defiantly raising their arms with closed fists. The book compares his work to that of Gordon Parks, who also used his photography as “a weapon against social inequalities”. Similarly to Allen, Parks came from a poor background and became dedicated to documenting humanitarian issues.

I would highly recommend this book to both teachers and students as it captures an important historical moment and tells an all too familiar story of the racism and inequality still present in American society. The book celebrates the importance of Allen’s work and this is demonstrated by the written commentary by close friends of Allen. I find this collection of photographs particularly inspiring as Allen’s role goes beyond that of a photographer: he is responsible for bridging the gap between the people of his community and the rest of the world, and you can really sense his compassion through these photographs.

– Lorna Byrne