When meeting and photographing members of one of Los Angeles most notorious Gangs, the Crips, the first thing that doesn’t spring to mind is, I know why don’t I use a really slow large format camera, you know the type, big extending bellows, dark cloth over your head, well that’s what I went with, very slow, and heavy, but it did have it’s plus points, I didn’t fit the usual photo journalist stereo type, just out for a quick story, and I’m sure when I rocked up with my guide, my cousin and good friend Glen who explained to them what I was doing, they probably looked at me and just thought nutter.
We traveled into Central Los Angeles over the course of a week to get the portraits, and the conversation we had with the gang members sort of followed a similar pattern, hugely territorial and very suspicious of anyone entering the area, but we also had another guide who had been convicted 10 years earlier for armed robbery, he had been like many other young boys and girls initiated into the gang at age 14, so the gang members I had exposure to were all from his old gang 10 years earlier, before he was convicted, of which quite a few were no longer around, Prison and death, the two stark ways out of gang life,
I did feel nervous entering these communities, I suppose a bit like sky diving, why throw yourself out of a perfectly good airplane, I trusted my guides, and that adrenaline rush you get with fight or flight situations can be quite addictive, but within minutes of setting up the camera I was concentrating on getting portraits within this gang controlled community.
The day I met the Crips
I remember clearly asking one gang member about using any of his guns in anger and his reply was " if some mother fu*~ers pointing a gun at me, I'll just shoot, pow " although in the 11 years since I did this project gang crime has improved, but the gun culture in the USA has not, the need to carry or conceal is intertwined within all walks of American life and society, and the ability to buy legally or illegally is a continuing problem, so yes, if you believe, then God bless America……
It's hard to believe unless you experience it first hand, but seeing 14 year old kids, and they are kids, carrying small handguns, the first duplex ( bungalow ) we went into, a a guy called S-dog came out of the bedroom with a large holdall, he was quite happy to show me the contents, an Uzi, intratec Tec-9 assault pistol, Kalashnikov AK-47 and various other hand guns, that looked very old, the bag was collected by another gang member, they left the AK-47 to use in the pictures, having seen S-dogs glazed eyes,( below right ) Glen suggested we remove the AK-47 ammo clip.
One thing that was clear was the lack of police presence within these communities, the gangs sort of policed there own territory, the shit would hit the fan so to speak when rival gangs over stepped the mark and entered Crip controlled neighbourhoods, the rival Crip gang are known as the Bloods, although central Los Angeles as it is now referred to, use to be just called South Central, and is a mix of many Gangs from many different cultures.