Photographer Befriended A 1950s Brooklyn Gang To Document Their Troubled Life

- Advertisement -

In the spring of 1959, a 25-year-old photographer Bruce Davidson decided to risk his safety and follow a teenage gang in New York city to document their fascinating life. There were about 1,000 gang members in NY at the time, mainly teenagers aged 12-19 from ethnically-defined neighborhoods that were the misfits of the society. Coming from poor Italian-American families, the teens were often rejected at home, in the church, or school. They often fought over “turf” and girls. Some boys would even wear pointed shoes so they could kick an enemy to death in just a few minutes.

“I met a group of teenagers called the Jokers,” Bruce recalled. “I was 25 and they were about 16. I could easily have been taken for one of them. In time they allowed me to witness their fear, depression, and anger. I soon realized that I, too, was feeling their pain. In staying close to them, I uncovered my own feelings of failure, frustration, and rage.” [Continue reading below…]

[showhide type=”pressrelease” more_text=”» READ MORE…” less_text=”SHOW LESS (%s Less Words)” hidden=”yes”]

In 1959, photographer Bruce Davidson managed to befriend a Brooklyn teenage gang called the Jokers

For several months, Bruce wandered together with them on their Brooklyn turf documenting their troubled life

Each gang had a almost military hierarchy. There was a President, Vice President and War Counsellor. The gangs couldn’t afford real guns, they fought with fists, broom sticks, bicycle chains, baseball bats, and homemade guns called “zip-guns.”

“I was 25 and they were about 16. I could easily have been taken for one of them,” said Bruce

“In time they allowed me to witness their fear, depression and anger”

“I soon realized  that I, too, was feeling their pain”

“In staying close to them, I uncovered my own feelings of failure, frustration and rage”

Bruce captured them lounging on the beach at Coney Island

Killing time in a neighborhood diner called Helen’s Candy Store

Hanging out in Prospect Park

Enjoying summer flings

And just being kids

The Jokers looked both tough and innocent

They were often involved in fighting over turf and girls with other gangs

And even though those fights sometimes led to death

Behind the cool facade the boys hid a lonely, troubled heart of a misfit

Coming from poor Italian-American families, the teens were often rejected at home, in the church, or school

They could only find comfort in each other

At 15, Bengie was one of the youngest members of the gang

His childhood was chaotic because of alcoholic parents and all the beatings he received at school from priests and nuns

He recalls that the Jokers were into “drinking beer, smoking pot, maybe popping a pill here and there”

Heroin came later

Lefty was one of “the first of the gang to die”

“Beautiful Cathy was there, always with her honey, Junior” and her story is the saddest

“Cathy was beautiful like Brigitte Bardot…She was always sad, always fixing her hair”

“Then, some years ago, she put a shotgun in her mouth and blew her head off”

Bengie went from “illiterate gang leader and notorious drug dealer to a destroyed individual who had lost everything, including family members, close friends, and himself”

Luckily, he found the willpower to enter detox and became a nationally respected drug addiction counselor

He has helped a wide spectrum of people, including former gang members. You can learn more about his story here

[/showhide]