portrayed by kevin ballance

New Zealand based photographer Kevin Ballance recently shared these impressive images of the heavily controversial Mongrel Mob - an organized street gang based in New Zealand that has a network of more than thirty chapters throughout the country - with us. Having originally started with a group of mainly European youths from Wellington and Hawke's Bay in the 60s, they’re offering a surrogate “family“ for young men, most of whom are often alienated from their family. At the beginning being a member of the gang was more about a specific lifestyle and code, but at the end of the 80s certain chapters began to get increasingly involved in organized criminal activities such as drug trafficking, prostitution and armed robbery.

Here's the artist in his own words:

I went to an all boys school in Northern Ireland in the 1980's, to fit in meant belonging to some sub culture. Mods with their clean angled suits and hair styles, punks in heavily studded leather biker jackets, skinheads with sta prest trousers too short to allow for the highly shone doc marten's with not a mark of boot polish on the white laces, all with designer swagger. I looked on, observing more than taking part, a fly on the gob soaked graffitti stained walls depicting someones hatred for the RUC (the police force at the time), shitting yoursef 'till the lunchtime bell sounded for a spell of sanctuary to commence again.

To enforce the fact that I am not imagining this after the passing of some 30 years, I remember the music teacher Mr Mercer would get the pupils to draw the logos of the bands they were listening to and pin them to the walls of his classroom. There would be alot of red, white and blue targets from the mods ( The Jam had just split). Cherry red Dr Martens with the 'Oi' verbal would standout in all its yobbish terrace venom, a new romantic had tried to copy a David Bowie album cover which I thought rather risky given he spent too much time on hair spray and his musical style clashed somewhat with Oi. All said there was some great artwork, less so music, there was no school band, very few would have had the apptitude to learn an instrument.

Fastforwarding to 2012 these images would flash through my mind driving away from Porirua Wellington New Zealand. I would think about those symbols pinned to the classroom wall in relation to what I had just photographed, the leather waist coat with the patch on the back or the tattoos, maybe it is something in the human condition that needs to belong, to be part of something, a substitute family, a sense of belonging.

In truth I had taken the images in my head before I had shot them, formal enviromental portraits taken on a six by six negative. This was a new venture for me, I had always carried a contax g2 as my camera of choice, take a couple of shots and move on approach as  I tried to establish a style, at times this approach would have been easier but more and more I got what I wanted so I stuck with the formal approach. Initially I was put in contact with the vice president of the gang and then after he would take me round other members or show me around the pad (clubhouse). Like anything, at times it worked other times it didnt but I got the photographs I wanted and that was that after a year or so it all fizzled out - all good.

-Kevin Ballance