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New Zealand's most notorious gang

A look at Jono Rotman's photos of New Zealand's Mighty Mongrel Mob, which is known for covering their faces with tattoos.
  1. Mongrel Mob
  2. It is New Zealand's most notorious gang whose members operate in a criminal world of violence that is usually shut off to the outside world. But one photographer managed to gain their trust - and in turn rare access - resulting in haunting images of some of the key members of the MightyMongrel Mob

    In this compelling photo series, NYC-based photographerJono Rotman gives us a glimpse of the infamous Mighty Mongrel Mob, the most notorious gang in New Zealand.

    Jono Rotman

    The Wellington-born artist managed to convince the hardened members of the Mighty Mongrel Mob, most of whom have been to prison, to sit for portraits.

    Jono Rotman

    When asked how he talked them into this, Rotman explained: “I told them I wanted to take martial portraits… Then once there was go-ahead from the top, the guys down the bottom were happy to cooperate.”

    Jono Rotman

    Established in the 1960’s, the Mighty Mongrel Mob started out as a gang of variously disaffected youth.

    Jono Rotman

    They didn’t ride bikes, but they quickly fell into all the trappings of an outlaw motorcycle club: patches, club colors, and a fiercely violent process of initiation.

    Jono Rotman

    The Mighty Mongrel Mob grew to become the largest gang in New Zealand, with around 30 chapters across both islands.

    Jono Rotman

    Rotman’s photo series is an extremely big deal — the Mighty Mongrel Mob is reclusive, secretive, and rarely allows media access.

    Jono Rotman

    Did Rotman ever feel intimidated? “Of course,” he said. “There was always a tacit understanding that they could kill me if I f***ed with them.”

    Jono Rotman

    “And you know, regardless of where the Mob are viewed in the social hierarchy, these men have committed to a creed and fought battles, sometimes to the death.”

    Jono Rotman
    You can view more of Rotman’s work on his website.

These haunting portraits by photographer Jono Rotman offer a close look at the largest gang in New Zealand, the Mongrel Mob.  After coordinating with a gang liaison, Rotman met mob members and gained unprecedented access to them. He took these portraits inside their homes from 2008 to 2014.<br />

The Mongrel Mob Portraits, which debuted at City Gallery in Wellington in 2014, were <a href="http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/culture/67120679/Photographer-brings-Mob-portraits-exhibition-to-Wellington" target="_blank">criticized for glorifying gang culture</a>. The series included this picture of <a href="http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/10684645/Murder-victims-dad-offers-mercy" target="_blank">convicted killer Shane Harrison</a>. "The uproar seems to be more about the idea that you're not allowed to show these people in a respectful way," Rotman said. "It's like they should only be shown in a gritty documentary or in police mug shots."

The New Zealand-born and San Francisco-based photographer says he didn't ask his subjects to pose. "Other than perhaps occasionally saying 'Face me directly' or 'Turn to the side a bit,' they tend to just sit how they are. It just so happens that they have a certain gravitas," Rotman said. "I haven't done makeup. I haven't done Photoshop. I've just taken a backdrop, a camera and photographed what existed."

After dedicating the last eight years to this project, Rotman wants viewers to know he was not attempting to spin a narrative. "It's not actually about the Mob," he says. "It's more an effort to present these people so that the images speak for themselves. It is for the faces to reveal stories about the person, rather than for me to translate their story, which is not mine to tell."
The Mongrel Mob started in the 1960s. Its members are known for their extensive tattoos and for wearing an emblem of a British bulldog with a Nazi helmet on their jackets and helmets. Most members are predominantly Maori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand.

The Mob appropriated Nazi party symbolism as their own but they are not white supremacists, Rotman said. "That Nazi iconography is a firm part of their identity and it's got nothing to do with white supremacy," Rotman told CNN. "The fathers and grandfathers of a lot of those guys brought back war booty from fighting the Germans, so there were a lot of swastikas and Nazi helmets lying around in attics and basements."
One of Rotman's subjects shared his grandfather's reasoning for choosing the swastika. "(He told me,) 'You think you're the master race? Well, I'll take your skin and put it on. Now who is the master race?' "
The Mongrel Mob Portraits, which debuted at City Gallery in Wellington in 2014, were <a href="http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/culture/67120679/Photographer-brings-Mob-portraits-exhibition-to-Wellington" target="_blank">criticized for glorifying gang culture</a>. The series included this picture of <a href="http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/10684645/Murder-victims-dad-offers-mercy" target="_blank">convicted killer Shane Harrison</a>. "The uproar seems to be more about the idea that you're not allowed to show these people in a respectful way," Rotman said. "It's like they should only be shown in a gritty documentary or in police mug shots."
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