The wall after the fight © Brett Gundlock
Brett Gundlock: When I was younger, I shot a project on Neo-Nazi Skinheads- the entire time was a precarious situation. But the one event that stands out was one winter night in Calgary, Canada. I was with a new group who were known for being pretty violent (and generally psychotic). Two of the skinheads got into an (drunken) argument, and I started to shoot.
The bigger of the two (Tyler) told me to stop shooting and that this wasn’t a side he wanted to show of their life. But the smaller one (Rob) defended me and my role there as a journalist. I had been shooting different groups in Canada for three years at that point, so I had a track record with them, and they understood what I was doing.
The argument escalated pretty quickly. Rob put on brass knuckles, Tyler ran upstairs and grabbed a samurai sword. It was one of those cheesey swords that you buy at a truck stop and leave on the top of your fridge. But it turns out they are pretty sharp.
So Tyler hit Rob with the sword (blood everywhere) and Rob hit Tyler with the brass knuckles. Tyler went down, one punch KO. I had never seen someone get knocked out with a single punch. I thought he was dead for a second. But this was my opportunity to start shooting. Tyler was knocked out for a minute, until Rob woke him up with a steel toe kick to the head. Pretty crazy five minutes for sure, but I shot quickly and quietly and then decided to exit before someone actually did die in that basement.
They called me the next morning, I guess they made up and they invited me back that night to have some more beers. Both Tyler and Rob are sitting in jail on murder charges for randomly beating a disabled man to death.
Brooke Frederick: Most recently would have to be an impromptu tour of a slaughter house in the middle of Louisiana. I pulled over to check out the place and the owner himself came out and offered to give me a tour and let me photograph it. I was wearing flip flops and a summer dress… Needless to say I could not turn down his offer.
Giles Clarke: I was on patrol with police in El Salvador one Saturday night a couple of years back. My wife once phoned me while there was gunfire going off in a rough suburb of San Salvador. I had a heavy anti-gang police officer on top of me and my nose was pressed to the dirt and, for some still inexplicable reason, I decided to take her call. I told her I was at a fairground and everything was fine.
The other time was arriving at Stephen Spielberg’s office to photograph him on the Universal Lot in Hollywood and realized I had left the rolls of film at home. More embarrassing than precarious!
Jeffrey Stockbridge: Photographing while hiking over a Gillespie Pass in New Zealand during a rainstorm was pretty precarious. More interesting and relevant, however, is when I embarked on Kensington Blues (2008-2014). During the course of the project, I was spending a lot of time walking up and down Kensington Avenue in North Philly. The Ave is infamously known for drug abuse, prostitution and violent crime. The first couple weeks of photographing were some of the most challenging times I’ve ever faced as a photographer. At first, I was too scared to get out of the car. Every woman on every corner was making eyes at me- they thought I was looking for a date. I worked up the courage to ditch the car and just walk around. In order to make portraits with my 4×5, I had to get people to trust me, which means that I had to trust them first. This wasn’t easy, but through sharing stories and showing prints, I was able to find common ground between myself and the people who were hard-up on the Ave. Communication and respect were key.
As my relationships within the community grew so did the project. A year or so later, I found myself feeling at home on the Avenue, and then one day I saw a young woman get shot in the back of the head right in front of me. Although I had immersed myself in my subject and felt entirely comfortable in the neighborhood, I knew that such things happened. Still, this was a stark reminder of the violence that plagues economically depressed inner-city neighborhoods throughout the US. A violence that we consistently hear about but don’t often witness first hand.