In the summer of 1982, music photographer Janette Beckman was introduced to members of the East LA gang “El Hoyo Maravilla.” She proceeded to document this culture much as she had with British punks and the emerging New York hip-hop scene.
She vividly remembers that summer: “I was spending the summer in LA with a friend who managed a punk band. For me, that meant going out to clubs at night to take photos, neon signs, palm trees, 1950′s bars and cars, Venice beach, and much more. One day I met a writer who was working on a story about the East LA gang scene. I asked him to introduce me to the El Hoyo Maravilla gang. We drove out one hot summer day to a large dusty park in East LA to meet some members of the gang. I had been documenting the London punk scene since 1976 and brought with me a box of 8 x 10 prints of the British skinheads, punks, ska and rockabilly kids to show them. I explained that these were the ‘gangs’ in the UK and they agreed to let me take portraits of them to show people in London. I spent that summer photographing the gang with my Hasselblad camera, driving back and forth from Hollywood to East LA in my Rent-A-Wreck V8 Ford LTD. The East LA area was poor, hot and arid, and there was the constant sound of LAPD helicopters buzzing overhead. The gang members introduced me to their families, showed me the barrio and tried to explain how it was living ‘la vida loca.’ I was the first British person they had ever met and we were curious about each other.”
In 2011, Dashwood Books published a collection of Janette’s photos of the HM gang. One of the three girls Janette had photographed leaning against a car in the park contacted her after seeing the book. Over 20 years after that original photo was taken, Janette met the girls again to see where their lives had taken them.
“We met in Boyle Heights at their sister Arlene’s house and they took me to the Home Girl Café for lunch. The three women had amazing tales to tell of their lives. They had lost husbands to gang violence. But these three amazing women had survived and thrived, they were mothers, career women and still the best of friends. They told me that most of the Hoyo Maravilla guys that I had photographed back in the day were either in jail or had passed away. We sat in the cafe and told stories. They tried to date the exact year I had met them: ‘Was the car we were standing in front of gold or blue?’ they asked, because one of their friends had been shot in the car and it had to be repainted after that because of the blood stains. This was how they would date the photos.”
A new exhibition opened at HVW8 Art + Design Gallery that features not only photographs of the HM gang back in the day, and the Rivera Bad Girls today, but also various iconic photographs documenting the formative years of the punk and hip-hop scenes including Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Debby Harry, Slick Rick, Keith Haring, and Run DMC to name a few.
For more information on Janette Beckman’s exhibit, click here.