I I was with a friend in Los Angeles in 1983, documenting the punk scene when I saw a story in LA Weekly about this Mexican-American gang, the Hoyo Maravilla. No one thought much of East Los Angeles and the different communities there. I was fascinated by this culture that I, especially being British, was not aware of.
I located the writer of the story and he agreed to introduce me. I brought a box of my impressions of punks, mods and rockabillies that I had been documenting in London for magazines like Face and Melody Maker and said, “These are London gangs. I’d like to take pictures of you to show the kids in London what’s going on in Los Angeles. ”I spent much of that summer in a hot and dusty park that was the gathering place for the Wonder Hole.
I didn’t know this at the time, but the gang was in a turf war and it was a pretty dangerous place. To me, the gang seemed more like a big family. I would start chatting with the children and they would say, “Do you want to come to my house and meet my grandmother?” One time some of the guys were doing graffiti while I was taking photos and the police came. I was rushed into her mother’s house and she hid me in the closet because she didn’t want to arrest me. Documentary and portrait photographers aren’t always level-headed. Even recently, during the Covid pandemic, many concerned friends have said to me, “What? Are you photographing demonstrations, with all these people?
The women in this image called themselves the bad girls of Rivera. Their makeup, their style, their eyebrows, everything on them looks amazing and very different from the punks and hip-hop guys I had been photographing.
I tried to sell the images as a photo essay to Rolling Stone, Village Voice, to everyone, but no one in England or America was interested. So the photos were on my shelf until 2011, when Dashwood Books in New York published they. The book, El Hoyo Maravilla, was widely reproduced on social media and one of the girls in the photo contacted me, then one of the boys, and I ended up sending them impressions.
Another former gang member contacted me on Instagram today. It is exciting to hear from all of them. You walk into a community, you take photos, and then you leave. Then more than 30 years later, you feel like you can give something back. When I had an exhibition in Los Angeles in 2013, I invited the women, who still live in that neighborhood. It was a grand opening with a huge party in the parking lot with DJs, and they were the stars of the show.
They have all done very well. One of them works for the prosecution. One works for the gang rehab group Homeboy Industries, and the other works in human resources and drives a Mercedes. But they told me that 90% of the people who were in my book were in jail or had been murdered. One of her husbands was murdered and she remarried. I visited her at home and she had my photo in the bedroom. We had a long and happy discussion. I thought she had taken the photos in 1982, but she said, “What color was the car? If it was blue, it was 1983. “Someone had been shot in the car, it was covered in blood and they had to repaint it.
My photographs are a collaboration between the subjects and me. You want to talk to them and find out who they are, and then take a photo. I don’t really pose people. I like that they feel comfortable in their own skin. These girls posed, that’s why there is honesty. Respect and communication help a lot. When I was photographing the hip-hop scene, I would go to the Bronx and people would say, “You’re not from here, are you?” As a woman, I am not intimidating, and somehow they respect you for being there and not being afraid.
I was using a Hasselblad Room At the time. Most people have never seen a camera that looks like that. You don’t bring it close to your eye, you look down at it. I bought it in 1978 to commission the cover of my first album, for an unknown band called Police. Album covers are square, so I thought I’d better buy a square-format camera, and then I fell in love with it. It could make huge and beautiful prints because the negative is larger than a 35mm negative. Many of the classic images I took during the hip-hop era (Salt-N-Pepa, Run DMC) were made with that camera. You can’t just click, click, click. Look, you take your time; it is a different way of photographing people.
Born: 1950, London.
Trained: London College of Communication.
Influences: Danny Lyon, Richard Avedon, August Sander, Martha Cooper.
Decisive point: “Documenting punk and hip-hop cultures”.
Low point: “Watching Trump Destroy America, 2017-2020”.
Better advice: “Follow your passion. Get to work. Treat people with respect.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism