Baltimore's new wave

Author D. Watkins and photographer Devin Allen are more than just leading creatives. They also give back on a regular basis: Allen collects donated cameras and hands them out to aspiring photographers in the city, and Watkins promotes literacy to Baltimore youth through his writing programme. They hosted another seven students as part of a two-day photography and writing workshop during the Amaphiko Academy in Baltimore.

We sat down with each of the participants to understand Baltimore through their eyes, and to hear in their words, how they want to see the city evolve.

Michelle Mokara Hamilton

Age 16
Michelle Mokara Hamilton
@ Shannon Wallace

What kind of a photographer are you?

When I take pictures, I usually go in the direction of experiencing something new. I want to have that memory to myself and possibly share it with my friends and family. I want pictures of a happy place where I was at. Most of my pictures I try to take them in the moment, in a split second. If I don’t take it now, I will never get this photo back. I don’t try to get the cliche photo. I try to play around with it but it’s not too out of touch, so people can still relate to it.

What did you learn during this workshop?

During this program when we got a chance to go out and talk to people, there was this one man we met who I found amazing. He told me to “feel with your head and to think with your heart.” We kind of look at feelings as in the moment and irrational, but sometimes you need to take those emotions and bring that into your decisions. I interpreted it as you shouldn’t invalidate your emotions and your feelings. He was like a shaman, kind of weird. He was healing us.

He showed me pictures he’d taken around Baltimore and even though they weren’t shot on the best cameras, it really made me realize that just because you don’t have fancy equipment, it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough.

@ Michelle Mokara Hamilton

Isaac Jolley

Age 17
Isaac Jolley
@ Shannon Wallace

What do you want your photograph to communicate about you?

I love food. I love to cook. If we didn’t have food, none of us would be here alive. Food is the key to everything, it brings people together, it makes people happy. Food is a good vibe. Food is life!

What do you want to be when you get older?

I want to be a restaurant owner and a chef. My mother cooks and my grandmother cooks. I wanted to do that since I was little. What inspired me was the death of my brother. He was stabbed when I was 15. That’s what made me pursue my dreams; life is not guaranteed and I might as well do what I can while I’m here.

How are you working towards your goal of becoming a restaurant owner?

I have a mentor named Ms. Monique who helped me get a job at a restaurant. I had three internships at one time and one of them turned into a real job. Basically what I’ve been doing is a bunch of community stuff. We go into different neighborhoods and give nourishment bags to kids who don’t have it. I am going to culinary school. That’s a must. The name of my restaurant is going to be called The Lazy Eye and the name of my truck will be The Eye is Always Moving.

Do you think you have what it takes?

I think I’m different from everybody in a way. Sometimes I feel different. A lot of people don’t use common sense. I try my best to do everything right and how it should be done so everything can run smoothly. Some people are not on my level. I try my best to give a positive attitude just so I can function right. I think I got my positive vibes from my grandmother.

What’s the Baltimore you would like to see?

Everyone coming together and working together to create something better for everybody. If we all come together and be one, it’s another story.

Do you want to stay in Baltimore?

I want to go out of state and see other places and meet other places. There’s a bunch of stuff out there that I haven’t seen that I would like to experience.

Where would you go?

Somewhere it’s always hot. Well warm, just not cold.

@ Isaac Jolley

Autumn Hughes

Age 18
Autumn Hughes
@ Shannon Wallace

What do you want your photograph to communicate about you?

You can take my picture and turn it into so many ways. It’s more about the passion of the picture: I took a picture of another picture. It’s about representing how the avenue once was and how it is now. I want the viewer to tell their own story. It’s a blank Baltimore story. To me, Baltimore is afraid: afraid to change, of so many things. The avenue was the party block and from what I heard, people had so much fun with celebrities coming in.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I like helping people. I want to be a labor delivery doctor.

Why?

I just like the human body.

What’s your ideal Baltimore?

I was born and raised here. I love Baltimore but I want to get out of here. The Baltimore I see? They’d rather have things stay the way things are even if it’s just okay. I started doing murals but they’re scared of the things I put up.

@ Autumn Hughes

Shaqueal Al-Malik MAAT MUNRA Shabazz

Age 23
Shaqueal Al-Malik MAAT MUNRA Shabazz
@ Shannon Wallace

What do you want your photograph to communicate about you?

When you look at the photographs, you’d feel the mood of the communities, watching the neighborhood daily without resources to nurture. While the police comes, with their many different newly improve uniforms and cars enforcing the laws of a land they don’t own. The love hate relationship of people who really care but have no way to see how the separation has taken their right to be. You’d see confused Black and white in the illusion of race, just a broken family separated by the fate of a government that we create.

What’s your ideal Baltimore?

My ideal Baltimore is the Black Arts District of Pennsylvania Avenue lit up with neon light, and Black culture up and down the walls of the streets. I see a city reborn of music, arts and culture. A renaissance that restores economic wellness through places and spaces, supporting all walks of light. But at its essence, it would remain a natural land of the risen people.

How do you envision achieving that?

It starts with us uniting as creators and artists bringing light to the world by releasing the heavy burden that isn’t ours to hold. I’m actually building a platform like that now, in the Arch Social Club Theater, reviving one of the last remaining Theaters on Pennsylvania Avenue.

What’s your vision for the platform?

This space would hold a cafe, lounge space, wi-fi, entertainment hub and cultural bookstore, combined with services of two music studios, in-house film production, youth and family programming while serving as a cultural beacon in the community.

@ Shaquel Wilson

Nyonna Scott

Age 13
Nyonna Scott
@ Shannon Wallace

What do you want your photograph to communicate about you?

Just because you’re struggling, that doesn’t mean you need to quit. You can continue your goals to get things you want and continue to be a better person. Don’t let someone bully you or hurt your feelings. I stand up for my friends when they get bullied. For example, my friend says she wants to quit or to kill herself. I tell her to sit and talk to somebody. I’m always here for you. Continue doing what you’re doing, do your work, and ignore them.

How did you become so wise?

I learned by seeing things.

What catches your eye when you’re taking a photograph?

People trying and not giving up.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be a chef or a choreographer. My grandparents love to cook and when I go to my grandmother’s house, she teaches me everything. I tell her that when you pass away- God forbid- teach me everything so I can have my own restaurant.

What’s your ideal Baltimore?

It would be better than what it is now. When I grow up, I want the world to have no killing, no shooting, no none of that.

@ Nyonna Scott

Gyasi Mitchell

Age 15
@ Shannon Wallace

What do you want your photograph to communicate about you?

When you look at my pictures, you would see how I view other people. Because everyone views things differently and shows different stereotypes. Depending on your camera angle, you might make this person look very different. It’ll change your perspective of him so you have to capture the right one since they’re super powerful. Photos are like a picture with no words but it still communicates a story. You have to find a way to do that. When I walk down the street, I usually see - oh there’s an interesting character over there- I should take a picture of him! I look around my surroundings and find the lighting, composition.

Where did you learn how to do that?

I taught myself. YouTube academy!

What kind of stories do you want to tell?

Anything I can get my hands on. I want to tell stories about people who look like me, people who go through the same struggles as me. A lot of time the media portrays us differently than what’s actually going on. I would want to be that person.

What’s your ideal Baltimore?

I would like to see a Baltimore that loves each other because recently there’s been a lot of violence. If you get a lot of peacemakers who know each other and can stop the violence that should be happening in our city. Baltimore is a good city and you learn a lot from here. It may be small but there’s a lot of opportunities and a lot of great people. People are scared of what they see in the media.

What do you want to do when you get older?

I would like to travel the world.

@ Gyasi Mitchell

Rejjia Camphor

Age 18
Rejjia Camphor
@ Shannon Wallace

What do you want your photograph to communicate about you?

I think everyone has their own story and with my images, I would want to grasp a sense of the world that nobody else pays attention to. That’s important to notice since in society, we’re such a busy world, no one takes the time to stand still, breathe, and absorb what’s going on. The images I took in the workshop, I wanted to focus on moments that happen in everyday people’s lives. That could mean so much more if you just take a moment to notice: you could see someone with their child, going to school. Those little moments, everyone has a story.

Do you tend to find yourself consistently drawn to certain subjects or themes?

One of my biggest themes in taking the photos is womanhood and motherhood. I came from a single parent home and so I wanted to talk about how mothers strive to do whatever it takes to make their children successful.

Do you know what you want to do when you graduate?

I want to do something where I teach, something related to community organizing, or writing for a magazine.

What does Baltimore mean to you?

I was born and raised here. I’ve lived all over Baltimore. I think it’s pretty grounded in who I am. And I can talk about my experiences here in the way that no one else can. I like it when we all come together and organize on important issues like youth and hood, schools, police accountability. Seeing different artists come together and do creative work around Baltimore, like murals on the sides of building. The other day when I was riding on the bus, I just had the thought of what if we turned vacant houses into art pieces? I know affordable housing is something Baltimore is striving towards.

@ Rejjia Camphor
Related project
A Baltimore's Girl Story
A Baltimore's Girl Story

My project is to create another approach to teaching self- awareness, self-development, and self-love to young girls.