The Usual Suspects

I call myself a “Closet Latino”. For Altpick member and photographer, Bob Stevens, the Latin culture has played a pivotal part in his life. Growing up in LA, he remembers visiting Plaza de Los Angeles, the original square around which the city was built.

That immersive beginning led him to recognize a project potential in an article he read in the LA Times about a former gang member who left behind his previous life on the street and was fulfilling his dream of working in the entertainment/movie industry. A bold move into Hollywood that only a truly focused person can attempt with any hope of success. An inevitable move to contact an ex-gang member to pitch a project that may bring out more than the skeptic in someone not inclined to trust a stranger, let alone at times, a friend.

Image courtesy of Bob Stevens

His name is Manny Jimenez. His talent agency is “Suspect Entertainment”. His why is to represent people who like him, had the look and the experience of “the gang life”. His clients are TV production and feature film projects with authentic looking types.

Can the anti-hero be the hero?

Bob contacted Manny and asked. Several meetings and conversations later, Manny accepted his proposal to document various friends and acquaintances of his. The concept involved an interview of the subjects during which they were asked to choose a place/location of personal significance to them, as well as an object that had great meaning. 

Bob shot studio portraits, still  life images of their belongings and environmental portraits at their chosen locations. The video “Los Ojos” shows behind the scenes footage of the shoot as well as interviews of the subjects on location and in the studio.

Image courtesy of Bob Stevens

Intrigued by the compelling concept, we sat down with him for a series of questions burning to be asked.

Image courtesy of Bob Stevens

Altpick: How challenging was it for you to break through any stereotypes before, during and after this shoot?

Bob: “I probably had the same ‘stereotypes’ in my mind as anyone else, since I grew up on the west side of LA, far away from their ‘hood’. As I began to interview potential candidates for this project and spend some time around them, I realized just how different I was, and that whatever hardships I might have had in my life paled by comparison.”

What is normal to you and me is shaped by our perception of normal in our environment. As Frank said in his interview, “people in East LA is bad but if you don’t know what ‘good’ is, then bad is just normal.”

Image courtesy of Bob Stevens

Altpick: Turning a negative into a positive. Over and over again. Is it sustainable? Do you see it in your subjects?
Bob: “All but one of my subjects has stayed clean, out of jail and free of their past, although it can still be dangerous for them to return to their old neighborhoods.  Many of them work with at-risk and troubled youth, two of them are counselors and one is the director of a rehab center.  They are intense even now but that intensity has been redirected in a positive way.”

Altpick: Manny has changed lives and perceptions with his bold entrance into Hollywood. This must have changed him as well. How did this milestone project change you? As an artist? As Bob Stevens?

Image courtesy of Bob Stevens

Bob: “The ‘Los Ojos’ project made me realize how valuable my skills are when applied to telling ‘real’ stories, not just the ‘created’ ones I have shot while working in advertising. I feel that I matured as an artist in the process. I am eager to shoot more projects like this.”

The personal becomes very personal when you’re separated from your subject by only a camera. The focus is sharper. The stories are just this side of disbelief. The person is changed. In front of the lens and behind the lens.

The creator becomes the creation.

See more of Bob Stevens’ photography work click here.
And, check out Bob’s Altpick page click here.
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5 Responses to The Usual Suspects

  1. Remy Haynes says:

    This is fantastic. Beautifully filmed and a beautiful idea. Nice work Bob.

  2. It’s great to see how some people make it happen with what they have. Perhaps those disadvantages are what really wake us up to take that leap and yank obstacles by the balls.

  3. Thanks to Bob for this powerful endorsement of digging beneath the obvious. You too are exhibiting a deep-seated drive and respect for your own abilities and instincts by bringing something untainted to the table. Nothing trumps reality. Great inspiration from both sides of the aisle.

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  5. lori says:

    Just fabulous work. Your artistic talent to provide this platform is not only inspirational, but the personal stories of this population are deeply compelling, and their authenticity is transparent. This work is chilling to me… it doesn’t get more real than this, and this culture needs a lot more exposure. Your work here is truly masterful.

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