Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Photographer takes shots as the crew lowers its guard

An exhibition showing the human side of south London's gangland culture wants viewers to see the individuals behind the stereotypes

    Another Lost Child exhibition
    Ex gang-member Jean Claude Dagrou (left) used photography to change his life. Photograph: Adam Patterson

    A powerful image of a black teenager, eyes downcast and his bare arm criss-crossed with knife scars, is among the striking images in a photographic exhibition about the UK's gangland culture.

    The photograph of ex-gang member Jean Claude Dagrou, who was scarred during a fight between rival south London gangs in his late teens, is part of Another Lost Child, which opened at the Photofusion Gallery in Brixton, south London, earlier this month.

    The exhibition, a collaboration between Dagrou, now 22, and photographer Adam Patterson, shatters the typical menacing image of gangs. Dagrou, shirtless and averting his gaze from the lens, looks vulnerable and resigned; his wounds are no badge of honour.

    Other photographs depict young men playing, eating and going about their lives. The works include Dagrou's shots, plus those documenting his new life away from gangs, after he left London to live with his girlfriend in Doncaster.

    Dagrou explains that the exhibition shows "how a young guy can change his life around". Patterson hopes the show will encourage people to think about the individuals behind the stereotypes.

    Patterson spent 2008 documenting south London's gangland culture, aiming to capture the humanity beneath the threatening, negative image. "It took a long time for young people to sit down and talk to me, but I had to show the quieter emotional moments," he says.

    Dagrou was not only stabbed, but witnessed the stabbing of his cousin. By the time he met the photographer, he was keen to escape gang life. He recalls: "When I was in hospital I was thinking it was the end, but I got a second chance and thought, 'I can change this.'"

    He asked Patterson to take pictures for his MySpace page and began using the photography project as an excuse to avoid old friends. Withdrawing from his gang, Dagrou enrolled on a music course and started mentoring youths in the studio where he worked. After Patterson's year-long project finished, Dagrou was accepted on to a photography course at Photofusion and then moved to Doncaster.

    The exhibition also underlines the importance of photography in working with marginalised youngsters, says Carole Evans, gallery co-ordinator at Photofusion, an Arts Council-funded charity that uses photography in outreach work. "We see photos everywhere so kids who've not had any experience in arts can relate to it," she says.

    In Doncaster, Dagrou is looking for work and keeping up his photography. He and his girlfriend are expecting their first child. "I want my child to live the good life I did not," he says.

    • Another Lost Child is on until 25 March.