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The Family Portrait Project

© Lee-Ann Olwage

The Family Portrait Project is a thought provoking series that takes a look at the alternative reality behind the life of former gang members and the way their lifestyle could have affected their families. Former gang members are photographed with their families in the first portrait to introduce the viewer to them and their place within their family structure. The second family portrait gives the viewer insight into what could have been by showing the family posed next to an empty chair. The empty chair becomes a powerful symbol of what could have been and also symbolises the loss many families of gang members deal with. It was important to illustrate the humanitarian side of former gang-members by portraying them with their families and so they become more relatable as the viewer now sees them as also being a father, a husband, a brother and a son. By looking at what their family portrait could have looked like you allow people the space to think about how our actions impact our future and how the choices we make can affect loved ones. By changing their lives and exiting gang life they get the opportunity to change the ending for themselves and their families.

Quotes from family members:
“I am very grateful that he changed his life and that we no longer have to worry about whether he is going to come home at the end of each day. Because he has a lot of knowledge of gang culture it also protects us as the area we live in is plagued by gang violence. He knows what to watch out for and what is going on and this makes me feel safe. He is also an example for our three sons. Young men are at risk to be recruited by gangs, but he serves as an example for them and can guide them to not make the same choices he did.” - Wilfred McKay’s wife

Patrick Hermanus: “In the past my children and grandchildren would have said my father or grandfather is an American gang member. That wasn’t a very nice thing you know. Now they can say I have changed my life and I’m doing good and that makes me very proud.”

click to view the complete set of images in the archive

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