Candy Kennedy Shoots Gangsters
When I interview her, Candy Kennedy is seven-months pregnant and has just returned from photographing gangsters in the Cape Flats, where the charismatic, big-breasted blond was carrying around a Hasselblad H3D2.
“Everyone says it’s a crazy idea,” she admits, “but you get awesome material and that’s why I’m here. I wanted to do something dangerous and exciting. Not a lot of people are prepared to go into those areas – they’re too worried about getting stabbed or shot. I was ready to take the risk. With the gangs, you are documenting a lifestyle, a culture, something that their tattoos, fucked up faces and stab wounds are representative of. I find it all intriguing, though at the same time I don’t agree with their violent natures and the destruction they cause.”
The Dubai-based photographer is focusing specifically on the coloured gangs, like The Americans, The Mongrels, Fancy Boys, Ghetto Kids and 26s, 27s and 28s. “I’m trying to capture the personas they have created. After all, they consider themselves celebrities, just as the American gangsters in the 40s did – that’s why my book is called Gangst*r.”
She’s not bothered by questions about the ethics of glamourising gangsterism; she’s more interested in telling me how she bought tik for locals so they’d smoke it in front of her. The approach worked: she had the gangsters’ buy-in and consent for her two weeks of almost unprecedented access.
Candy photographed guns, knives, pangas, and an AK47, but didn’t have any serious incidents. “We moved around and tried not to stay in one location too long. I love a bit of adventure and there’s nothing more adrenaline-pumping than meeting, photographing and dealing with the world’s most dangerous people – the Cape Coloured gangs.”
She met Lionel Turner in Dubai, where he’s working as a best boy, and convinced him to be her fixer. “He grew up on the Cape Flats. He’s not in the gangs but he’s hung around them all his life. His uncle’s serving time, so he’s got some respect. And he’s a big boy, so he can handle himself.”
Candy also connected with another fixer, Benton, and has been working closely with MyLife Foundation, a foundation that works with at-risk youth and children in Cape Town. MyLife will receive a percentage of all proceeds from the shoot.
The “most hardcore” area she went to was The Candy Store in Kleinvlei. “I wanted to shoot there but they said no way. It’s a drug store which the police have been trying to close down for years.”
Generally though, Candy says the community’s been very welcoming. “The guys really want their photos taken. I didn’t expect them to be quite so friendly.”
In the end, she had more problems with the cops than the communities.
She’s not going to invite her subjects round for a braai though. She interviews them as part of the shoot. Have they killed someone? How did it feel? Are you proud of it? What do their tattoos mean? “The guy today said he feels nothing if he kills someone,” she says.
Candy’s shooting the gangsters in their own locations, using a portable white background and an 8x8m scrim. “The backdrop makes it look like a fashion shoot, but just off to the side you have an awesome visual of shacks and kids playing. I often shoot horizontally so I get the environment as well. I sometimes have light stands in the way, or crew, so it gives it a documentary feeling.”
When the backgrounds are less inspiring, she just goes in close. “The main thing for me is the faces, the story they tell.”
She compares her style to Peter Lindbergh, “with a harder light, in black and white, and with gangsters instead of models.” She says the gangsters have been naturals at taking direction.
Candy’s hoping to turn Gangst*r into a coffee table book and has exhibitions lined up in Dubai and Paris. “I’d like to create some international awareness of the problems,” she says. “A lot of young men are forced to join these gangs because their families have been threatened. The wars between rival gangs claiming areas and status is a daily occurrence in The Cape Flats. Being raised in poverty and without a basic education means there is little or no future for these youngsters. They join because they have no choice.”
Candy’s partner, cameraman Mark Sherman, made a behind-the-scenes documentary of the project. He’s been working as a cameraman and gaffer in Dubai on projects like The Kingdom.
Candy went from the Cape Flats to her parents in France to deliver her child. She’ll be back in Dubai for season but she and Mark are planning on relocating to Los Angeles, America in February 2011. She’d love to move into film directing in the near future.
For more information, visit Candy Kennedy’s website.
First published in The Callsheet, 2010