Two young boys in the heart of LA gangland: Merrick Morton’s best photographMay 20, 2021
‘I’ve taken shots of people pointing their guns at me – and one gang wanted to be photographed doing a drive-by shooting. I refused’
I’ve been shooting street gangs in Los Angeles since the early 80s. For whatever reason, I always seemed to gravitate towards the gangs with the potential for violence. A contact in the LA county probation department helped me get started. He took me to some of the people on his caseload and, from there, I started to drive around the neighbourhoods with my photographs, stopping people on the street, saying: “Here’s what I’ve done. Would you like some photos?” Gang members like having their pictures taken. They’re extremely proud of their area, and so by photographing them you’re highlighting their neighbourhood.
As far as I remember, this picture was taken in 1982 in the Pico-Union area near downtown LA. It was – and still is – an area of immigrants, a poor district with a lot of apartment housing. At the time, it was pretty much ruled by the 18th Street Gang, before the rival MS-13 gang gained a stronghold.