Hardened ex-gang members show vulnerable side in portraits after spending time behind bars at violent prison
Fearsome ex-gang members who spent time in a violent prison have revealed their vulnerable side in these intimate portraits.
The thought-provoking pictures tell the story of each ex-con by showing their tattoos and gunshot and knife wounds that illustrate the dangerous lifestyle they once led.
Photographer Lee-Ann Olwage said the men wanted nothing to do with his project at first, so he spent three months hanging around their crime-ridden neighbourhood to get them to reconsider.
To gain their trust and built a rapport, the 31-year-old would visit them at home or go out for meals with them as gang violence swirled around them.
The former gang members were once held in South Africa’s most violent prison.
Lee-Ann launched her photo series after she discovered Ceasefire, an organisation that aims to work with the people of Hanover Park, a Cape Town suburb plagued by gang violence.
Its aim is to prevent gang-related street violence through mediation with ex-offenders like the men pictured, who work as professional “violence interrupters” during times of conflict.
That inspired the name for Lee-Ann’s project, The Interrupters.
She said: “Initially the guys were not open to working with me at all.
“I persisted and for the first three months, I just used to drive into Hanover Park and hang around the building where they work, hoping to meet them.
“The biggest problem in doing this work was gang related shootings and gang wars raging in the neighbourhood at times.
“This, at times, made it dangerous to go into certain areas and the guys were busy stopping retaliations and managing the violence so this often delayed working there.”
She added: “I realised that I had to leave my camera at home until we got to know each other.
“I visited them at their homes and we shared many meals at a small local Pakistani restaurant and experienced a lot together.
“There were many shootings and funerals and they were also there for me when I encountered difficulties in life.
“We became friends and only then was I able to ask them to spend the time and get to really know the guys. They felt comfortable with me so it was easier for them to open up.”