Vipoh Got Stabbed And Left The Gang
Adam Patterson is one of our favourite photo journalists. A regular contributor, he brings us welcome and hard-hitting antidotes to the swathes of photos of pretty kids on fixed gear bikes we get sent that make us want to tear our own faces off. Whether he's covering slave labour in Dubai, Swansea's heroin dependent youth, or the draconian 'Three Strikes' laws in California, we can rely on him to come to us with great shots. He has an exhibition called "Another Lost Child" starting tomorrow at Photo Fusion, which will be well worth checking out if you like photos, London or gangs. If you like all three you may as well put your shoes on as soon as you're done reading this conversation we had with Adam about his show.
VICE: So what's Another Lost Child "about", Adam?
Adam Patterson: Essentially it's a story about growing up, I suppose. Transition and change. When it began back in 2008 it was about gang kids in Brixton, but it quickly became focused on the journey of one young man in particular who called himself "Vipoh", and his struggle to leave the street life he'd grown up in. I photographed Vipoh [real name Jean Claude] throughout 2008 and 2009, and then rejoined him late last year to highlight how his life had changed. I didn’t want him to only be identified with the original images, when I had seen so much positive change in his life. By that point he'd completed a photo course, and some of his work and writings will be shown alongside my images at the exhibition. As ever the project continues to be a collaboration, and none of this would have been possible without his willingness to allow me deep into his life.
How long were you involved with Vipoh when he was still a gang member?
I met Vipoh in Autumn 2008, when he was running a small music youth group in Brixton. He'd been badly stabbed and in another attack his cousin had almost been killed, and I soon realised he was looking for a different way to spend his time. I was an excuse for him to avoid the parties and all the old paths. He was focusing more on music, too. When I left London in March 2009 Vipoh wasn't in a gang any more, but he was still living in the area. Sometimes the only way to change is to change everything. Perhaps that's why he moved to Doncaster last year to be with his girlfriend.
Were there any points during that time when you thought either he or you were too close to danger for comfort?
A few times at house parties, and once I was grabbed by undercover police because they thought I was selling weapons. Aside from that Vipoh vouched for me, and everyone respected him – if someone questioned my presence he would set them straight.
How did you maintain your friendship with him once he'd left the gang?
He’s just another person. Our friendship developed through the photographs, really – he opened his life up to me because he trusted me and what I stood for. By the same token I learnt a lot from him, and this bond continues, whether we are taking photographs or not.
What's he up to now?
It’s a real relief to see Vipoh in a different place, both mentally and geographically. He seems more relaxed and more settled although he is still a young man and you never really know what life'll throw at you. More than anything his girlfriend Mo is good for him and when they have their child this summer I feel his perspectives will shift even further.
For more information about the show go here.