CQS 25th Anniversary Tribute: Willie Allen

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Willie Allen (Spring 2002)
Freelance Photographer

The sweltering humidity rose from the asphalt, and the scorching heat descended from the wispy clouds in the southern skies. My sweaty shirt clung to my back as I made photographs at the chaotic scene outside the Superdome. Thousands of frustrated Hurricane Katrina survivors begged to leave their dark, dank, over-populated confines, short on food and water inside the Superdome.

Then I heard the sound I’ll never forget: click, click, click, click. It turned into a cacophony of more than 50 Army National Guardsmen taking their rifles off safety.

What would soon happen to the men, women and children just yards away from the lethal threat?

I made photographs with other photojournalists, working between the National Guard troops behind us and the young, middle aged and older survivors of Hurricane Katrina in front of us. I documented the faces of young babies crying, schoolchildren fainting and older African American citizens struggling from the harsh conditions reminiscent of photographs in developing countries around the world.

Is this happening in New Orleans?

My realization in the moment was that this is why I became a journalist, working for the St. Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times. My calling is to tell the stories about the plight, lives, challenges and triumphs of all marginalized groups around the world.

In time, cooler heads prevailed, the National Guardsmen’s rifles were set back on safety, and the first buses arrived to transport the survivors to a safe place outside New Orleans.

This is but one moment in my career spent documenting life in our world. I owe much to Chips Quinn’s spirit and passion and to the teachers that helped me become a journalist capable of sharing how strong the human spirit is.

After nine years as a staff photojournalist at the Tampa Bay Times, I resigned at the end of 2013 to become full-time father, husband and independent photojournalist in Orlando, Fla. I continue to seek and document those moments that highlight the triumphant spirit we all possess.

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2 thoughts on “CQS 25th Anniversary Tribute: Willie Allen

  1. Willie took the best photo ever of one of Warrick Dunn’s Moms. She was seated on her brand new SURPRISE sofa and he clicked in time to catch the tear roll right down her cheek. It remains my favorites in all of the 150 homes he has presented.

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