The Firm Paperback – Jul 8 2003
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*Starred Review* To Americans, the English seem too polite, well spoken, and cute to be gangsters. But English gangsters there are, though plenty have Welsh, Irish, and immigrant surnames. The younger ones could be any European or North American country's modern mobsters, and the old guys look just like Luciano and other old mafiosi. Photojournalist Hogg ran with them for two years, and he presents them in brutal black-and-white in a classy oversize volume whose black pages and binding give it the aura of a glamorous charnel house. The first and last images in the book depict the interments of the last two of the notorious Kray brothers. In between, the Krays' remaining colleagues, their successors, and assorted henchmen appear. They are mostly big, beefy men, fond of model-like women who don't mind baring a breast on a regular basis. If the oldsters stick to tailored suits, the youngsters affect celebrity duds, jewelry, shaved heads, and tattoos. The latter revel in publicity, and two batches of photos show one especially genial tough on tour with his new book. The island of Tenerife has become a refuge when the heat is on, and another stunning sequence shows a bare-knuckle boxer and henchman romping there while the matter of a knifed opponent cools down. Author-hood and boxer-hood each contributes his story to the book's sparse commentary, and the other commentators, even the nongangsters, prove as enthralling, not least for comparing this lot of toughs to King Arthur's Round Table gang at one end of England's history and the Windsor bunch at the other. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From the Publisher
From their nightclubs and strip-joints, to their boardrooms and bathrooms, these portraits of the underworld reflect the masonry of London's East End, where members are elected for their very particular prowess and skills. Old-fashioned rules apply: friends and family first, no swearing in front of the ladies, and, above all, never grass. This network extends across the country. It is about freedom and incarceration, loyalty and betrayal, violence and camaraderie.
But things are changing for the British gangster. Ex-KGB mafiosi are taking over areas such as prostitution, gambling and drugs; the surviving Kray confederates are writing their memoirs and making personal appearances at film premieres and book signings. The new breed like Dave Courtney are taking every opportunity to use the media for self-publicity, giving lectures across the country, writing autobiographies and film scripts.
These photographs capture every facet of the life of the modern villain: from public appearances to mysterious 'disappearances'; from members-only bare-knuckle fights to the astonishingly huge popular appeal of a Kray family funeral. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.See all Product Description
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Here, longtime fashion photographer Hogg presents an insider's portrait of real English (and Welsh) gangsters in this gorgeous coffee-table book. The project started when he met self-promoting gonzo gangster celebrity Dave Courtney (author of the memoirs Stop the Ride, Raving Lunacy, The Ride's Back On, host of the Gangland UK and Dave Courtney's Dodgy DVDs, etc.) at a fashion event, and so managed to make his way into the contemporary inner circle of "The Firm." As far one can tell from this book, "The Firm" is a loosely-knit alliance of interests, that is to say, everyone knows each other and talks to each other, but there's no overarching boss or hierarchy. Hogg took a few photos, showed them around, the gangsters liked them, and for about two years he was a mostly tolerated outsider. Although in one interview Hogg admitted, "Not everybody wanted to be photographed, and seeing me around with a camera was enough to start a quarrel" the general feeling was that "After a while everybody knew about me, but many times they weren't even aware of my discreet presence. That's how I gave my images such a intimate feeling."
Intimate is the right word for it, as Hogg's photos leap right into the dark corners with a mix of portraiture and photojournalism. From quiet closeups of old-time gangster legends (generally Kray associates) smoking in East End bars, to raunchy Mayfair party antics, to the ritual of high-profile funerals, this book covers the gamut. Hogg's fashion background shines through, as the portraits are clearly the finest work in the book, capturing every crease and scar on a face, dead eyes cloaked in shadow, half-smiles, and outsize posturing. From a photographic perspective these are great works, albeit ones that reinforce the gangster mystique and certainly celebrate them. The funeral bits are much more banal, the kind of stuff any competent newspaper staff photographer might walk away with. The candid scenes are probably the most disturbing and perhaps most revealing: one subject playfully holding two guns at his girlfriend's head as she squirms away with her child sitting in the background, Courtney's groping of models at parties, Welsh gangsters menacing a cowering deadbeat with a steering wheel club. In all, the book has about 140 beautifully reproduced black and white photos that take one into a seedy world.
Sprinkled throughout the book are a few essays by the subjects, including a cheezy and self-justifying forward by Bruce Reynolds (mastermind of the legendary 1964 Great Train Robbery and author of the memoir Crossing the Line). Indeed, self-justification is the order of the day in the essays, from Dave Courtney's rambling "I'm a naughty boy" apologia to bare-knuckle fighter Mickey Goldtooth's woe-is-meism. The most interesting story is that of Welshman Bernie Davies. He also seeks to explain why he's a gangster, but his story is much more interesting, as it stems from the shutdown of the mines and Thatcherism. Indeed, the photos of Welsh gangsters bear little relation to those of the dapper old-time East Enders or the flash lads hanging out in Tenerife. All in all, this is an excellent work that should appeal to those in the market for interesting photography collections as well as those interested in a literal behind-the-scenes look at the modern British gangster.
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