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Guest post: Portraits of the Homies

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Ernest Wright spent some time working with Homeboy Industries, a gang rehabilitation charity in Los Angeles, to create this series of portraits of former gang members seeking out a new life free of crime:

Of all subjects to photograph, why this one?

The idea of creating portraits with recovering gang members really grabbed me for two reasons. First, I was drawn in by the dichotomy between the bravado which is so central to gang life and the vulnerability of these young men and women which comes through in some of the photos. It’s something I find both interesting as well as poignant.

The second reason that I decided to work with recovering gang members is the idea of redemption. I think that redemption is something that is relatable to all of us: on some level we all feel that we can be better than who we have been in the past. The decision to leave your life as a gang member, to change your very identity, epitomizes this concept. It is inspiring to see these individuals take on such a difficult journey: it reaffirms this idea that one can leave the past to move towards a better future.

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How do you engage with your subjects in these portraits?

I think portrait photography is unique in that what is captured is not a subject in isolation, but rather a subject in the midst of an interaction with the photographer. You can’t make a good photo if the subject doesn’t trust you, and consequently you cant really do portrait photography from a distance. My experience is that the subject needs to understand why you are making the photography, what your intentions are, and ultimately what your objective is. If you can explain this to them and earn their trust, people open up and allow the interaction to happen. Trust is the foundation from which good portraits are created.

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What equipment did you use to make these portraits?

I use a Nikon D700 with the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens for most of my portrait work. Nikon’s most inexpensive prime lens remains one of its best. With regards to lighting, I used a single Alien Bee strobe with either a beauty dish trigged by a PocketWizard.

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Ernest Wright has been nominated as one of Smithsonian Magazine’s ten finalists in their annual photo contest, as well as headlining his own exhibit documenting children living with Spina Bifida in Uganda at Yale’s Cushing-Whitney library. You can view more of his work at www.ernestwrightiii.com

If you have an interesting idea for a guest postyou can contact me here.

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  • Maji

    Great portraits… and above all documenting a great humanitarian effort.

  • RxGus

    Very powerful. Thank you for sharing such a unique portrait session with us.

  • Yarrus

    Great portraits! Good luck for the guys!

  • http://z7photo.com/ Csaba

    Very powerful photos and nice interview. Good points about trust and interaction – I believe this part of portraiture is as important as all the others combined (technique, lighting, etc.). The 50mm F/1.8 G is a real gem, I often use it for portraiture, though I also love the 24-120 F/4 when I have to work fast and space is limited/varies. Super sharp (too sharp actually) at F/5.6 – the usual aperture I use with off camera lights and very nice colour reproduction and contrast. My two workhorse lenses.

  • Steven Hyatt

    Great subject, great results. Thanks for sharing your work.

  • thorgal_aegirsson

    Well it looks like they are all Mexicans. What does it say to you???

    • Eric Duminil

      That LA is close to the mexican border?

    • Spy Black

      That you’re ignorant.

    • Bill Ferris

      They all look like Americans to me. Blessings to all involved with Homeboy Industries. Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Johnny Dough

      Someone forgot the Alamo?

    • Clubber lang

      From your name it says that you are a lonely overweight single male that goes to comic book conventions and masterbates after eating a large bag of ruffles potato chips….and throw in a few hours of gaming afterwards.

      • orpickaname

        Hehe, nice move. We never run out of assumptions on the intehwebz.

  • Eric

    What kind of background he used in the first two pics? Im trying to find one like that, any help please?

    • martin

      that’s an ordinary paper background, colour – “dove grey” or something like that. the second image is more natural, the first one has either altered curves or cross-process filter applied.

      • martin

        or maybe storm gray, hard to say from these images.

      • Eric

        Thanks!!

  • Ernesto Quintero

    Photo journalism knows no limits, here is some proof.

  • Chuck

    I agree 100% with redemption. If you can’t grasp that feeling and emotion, then you haven’t discovered yourself.

  • mikeswitz

    Powerful work. Thank you.

  • http://stevewakeman.tumblr.com/ Steve Wakeman

    Nice set!

  • ajabani belonduwaji

    I hate anything that shows any side of these thugs, rapist, murderers, gang bangers. Its funny to those who live outside los Angeles to g;glamorize these thugs but those of us who live here, they are nothing worth a single bit of exposure

    • silmasan

      I read “recovering gang members” but none of the other things you said. Could you imagine that they may not be as one-faceted as you think they are? And would you rather have them stay in gangs than recover?

      • ajabani belonduwaji

        I would like to see them all on death row. You have obviously never had to run from a party to avoid the bullets that these thugs dispense. You have never been in a bank trying to cash your check and one of these idiots decide to rob the bank. I get it, you like in a fantasy worl, stay there bro, i live it you read about it.

        • silmasan

          No I don’t live in heaven, actually far far from it. But I get your notion.

          Take your time. And if possible, maybe you can try moving to and living in a more peaceful place for a while. I know it’s difficult to change our perspective while staying in the same situation over and over again.

          There will always be souls trapped in crime, perhaps for lifetime. Your life, however, is absolutely your responsibility. Including the place and neighborhood of your own choosing, the kind of life you want for yourself, and your own peace.

      • Mansgame

        Would you trust one of these gentlemen to watch over your company’s cash register? How about babysit your kids? How about drive your mother to the store? How about a night out with them getting some beers? Yeah, get off your high horse.

        • silmasan

          As strangers, no. I *must* know the individual personally. And that takes time.

          But either way, I don’t assume.

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