April, 2007 - Photographer, Howard Gribble Interviewed by Christian Acker

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Handselecta: Lets start with the basics, if its all right with you. [I may ask a question or two, that you are not knowledgeable about. Feel free to pass on some questions if need be.]

What did you think of my intro? Do you want to take this chance to introduce yourself?

I'm flattered! And basically you hit the nail on the head. I have a life long interest in history, or perhaps I should say there are certain aspects and periods of history that interest me. Some of these are represented in my Flickr sets, i.e., traditional hot rods, custom cars, rat rods, old cars , found photos, the old west, WW2 aircraft and, of course, Chicano gang graffiti.

I was born in the Southern United States during WW2 but have lived in the Los Angeles, California area since 1952. In my teen years, like a lot of my peers, I became interested in cars and racing and this interest has continued to the present. Over the years I've owned and restored muscle cars, hot rods, custom cars, low riders and even a WW2 vintage aircraft. Since childhood I've also had a keen interest in art and the visual aspects of my varied interests have probably been a more important factor than the mechanical end of it. In fact, I'm not much of a mechanic. Or an artist either, truthfully. But I am interested in a lot of things. Over the last thirty years these interests have combined to pretty much define my current focus on what has popularly become known as "Old School".

Howard Gribble: When these photographs of Chicano "placas" (wall writing) were made in the early 1970s gangs and their graffiti were a mysterious presence that few understood -- if they were aware of them at all. In the thirty plus years since the popular media and entertainment industry have repeatedly spotlighted the subject to the point that the gangsta culture has become a pervasive part of our society.

The original gangster graffiti of this period was of a purer form than that seen today, with much emphasis on artistic flourishes. These pieces could last for years in the days before municipilaties instituted aggresive graffiti removal programs that quickly remove them from view -- often overnight.

This is, of course, still vandalism but from an earlier and more innocent time.

Howard Gribble: This is a field guide to the street gangs of Los Angeles. It was distributed to law enforcement officers about 25 years ago but most of the information is applicable to the photographs in this set, which date from the early 1970s. The author and publisher is Mike Poirier and it is compiled from information gathered for a Master's project.

This book was purchased at a flea market and no known source of copies exists. It contains no pictures or illustrations, just an alphabetical listing of L A County gangs cross referenced with responsible law enforcement jurisdictions.

The website has a gallery of L. A. Barrio Calligraphy. Excellent pics from the late '90s and in color too. 

Handselecta: Do you mind if I ask how old you are?

I'm 63

Howard Gribble: One of L.A.'s oldest gangs, "Clanton 14" takes its name from the former Clanton Street, now renamed 14th Place. Several variations on the "C 14" theme are seen here. It should be noted that the number 14, as used here, has nothing to do with Northern California. Probably sometime in the mid 1970s inmates of the state prison system from Northern California adopted the number 14 to differentiate themselves from their bitter rivals from Southern California, who were generally associated with the number 13.

Although the old Clanton 14 neighborhood has been fractured by freeway construction and urban renewal the gang still survives and has an excellent website at

HS: When did you start taking photos of your surroundings?
HG: In high school I took a few pictures and later a class in photography. About 1966 I bought my first personal camera, a Polaroid. Didn't take a lot of pictures though because film was expensive. As I got more involved in the car scene I wanted to document what I was seeing and in about 1970 I jumped into photography in a big way with two Nikon bodies and an array of lenses. Spent a lot of money, even by today's standard! I was ready to get serious about photography and I did.

HS: Are you a professional or amateur photographer?
HG: I am not a professional. Most of my photographs serve only to document my interests and trav:els. Occasionally I use Photoshop to manipulate photos but not really in an artistic sense. These would be the historic looking pictures that are actually composites of old and modern images.

HS: May I ask your profession?
HG: I have worked in the aerospace field for most of the last 40+ years./

Howard Gribble: Block letters with drop shading but still within genre of Chicano graffiti. It has been said that "Wilmas" is Wilmington in Spanish. While this is not true, "Wilmas" was the name adopted at least 50 years ago by gang members from the Los Angeles Harbor area community of Wilmington.

"W S" stands for "West Side", as opposed to their cross town rivals on the "East Side". This is an important distinction to Wilmingtonians, who have a long and violent history of feuding over these respective territories. Among those represented on the roster at right are: "Pollito", "Sapo" (frog), "Wino", "lil' Man", "Oso" (bear), Owl and "Chino" (China-man).

It should be noted that, while "wino" is American slang for an alcoholic or "bum", it is also a desirable and frequently used gang nickname. 

Howard Gribble: "HXCXR" stands for "Harbor City Rifa". Rifa means, roughly, "rules". This meant is to indicate that Harbor City is superior to all other gangs in the area, a contention that is likely to be disputed by members of rival gangs. 

HS; You seem to be very interested in motorsports. Are you also a collector or hobbyist?
HG: I've already touched on that. Over the years my interest in actual racing competition has waned and I've gravitated toward the early style, nostalgic street rod (which I prefer to call a "hot rod") and custom car. Again, the "Old School". I own a 1932 Ford "Deuce" coupe, hence my Flickr name, /KID DEUCE.

Howard Gribble: Though most placas are not dated "Sailor" from the "Avenues" area of Highland Park had the urge to record the moment, now more than 40 years past. This is the oldest dated piece in the set.

Just to the left is what appears to be an even older placa from the "Happy Valley Cobras". Happy Valley and the Avenues are among the oldest gangs in the Los Angeles area. . 

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