A crowd forms around a circle on the dance floor, and your favorite club beat pulses over the speakers. A quick impulse runs through, and you step into the center of the circle as it clears. It’s time to perform and break free from the stress and weight of the week. The circle is a ritual space of release, love, gratitude, bliss, and praise, and memories of this ritual come flooding back when looking at photographs by Sydney J. Allen.
Many folks know Allen from her stunning portrait work and her documentation of Version, a popular Black and LGBTQ+ dance party hosted monthly at The Crown. Her graceful black and white photographs of poet and teacher Meccamorphosis also illuminated Charles Street as part of LED Baltimore last summer. Mecca’s figure towered over pedestrians walking up and down the busy street near Penn Station, just blocks away from The Crown, where Allen has spent many nights over the past three years documenting the immense love and intimate energy at Version. Although Version has been put on hold due to the pandemic, looking at Allen’s images of the once-packed Red Room conjure stories of the many nights spent dancing, loving, and, in Allen’s words, “just existing.”
Allen’s path to photography was not linear—it was shaped by various life circumstances and an intuitive draw to the art form. She began with her first camera, a point-and-shoot that she received from her job in 2010, at the age of 18. “I was just using it to take pictures of my friends and documenting good times in Baltimore,” she says. In the midst of getting her first camera ten years ago and beginning to hone her craft, Allen found herself recovering from a major car accident that halted her photography journey.