Over forty years ago, LIFE magazine published an intimate and, for the time, remarkably even-handed article on the mounting problems associated with street gangs in New York and other cities around the country. The piece focused on one gang in particular — the Reapers in the South Bronx — and featured a series of powerful color pictures by a young photographer named John Shearer.
Shearer, only the second African-American staff photographer ever hired by LIFE — after Shearer’s mentor and friend, the great Gordon Parks — was uniquely qualified, among the magazine’s not terribly diverse stable of shooters, to capture the Reapers’ days and nights. But even he had trouble penetrating the gang’s wall of suspicion.
“I visited the neighborhood five or six times, without my camera,” Shearer says, “just so I could get a feel for that part of the South Bronx. A few times I was approached by Reapers asking me what I was doing there, but largely I was left alone.”
Then, on one fortuitous early morning after a late night in the neighborhood, an exhausted Shearer was sitting outside a bodega drinking a cup of coffee when a Reaper literally almost tripped over his legs. It turned out the young man was none other than Eddie Cuevas, the charismatic president of the gang.
Shearer and Cuevas got to talking, and when Cuevas learned that Shearer was not only a genuine photojournalist with an impressive list of assignments already under his belt, but that he was also the son of Ted Shearer, the groundbreaking visual artist and creator of the long-running comic strip Quincy, it was a done deal. The next day, Cuevas informed Shearer that he could begin shooting the Reapers lives in earnest.
“Eddie fancied himself something of an artist,” Shearer recalls. “He’d designed the Reapers’ colors, for example, and the fact that my dad was the man behind a comic strip that he read every day provided me with my ticket into his world, in a way.”
Source: LIFE magazine
Post by Coco Pastis