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El Atacor, Whittier Blvd. & Lindsay Ave. (1998)
Photography Greg Bojorquez

Candid photos of life, love and loss in 90s East LA

Gregory Bojorquez’s series Eastsiders depicts the raucous, tragic, and joyful reality of growing up in east Los Angeles

Gregory Bojorquez was still a teenager compelled first and foremost by the desire to spend time with friends when he began taking photographs of his neighbourhood in Los Angeles’ Eastside. Initially, the pictures he produced were an almost incidental by-product of his life during those febrile years. “Hanging out, for me, was just as important – or even more important – than the actual art of photography,” he writes. “Drinking beer and watching the game at a friend’s house was something to photograph. A house party on a Friday night was something to photograph. A retirement party for my pal’s mum at the Montebello Inn was something to photograph.” 

In his twenties, he began a project he called Eastsiders and was guided by two significant rules: that the pictures all had to be located strictly within the parameters of the Eastside, and that they had to adhere to a policy of total spontaneity. “I never once arranged a photo shoot with anyone for this project, and I never met anyone at point A to photograph at point B. I thought that would be lame and inauthentic.” He insists, “Sometimes people who knew I was working on this project would try to get me to shoot someone or something and I wouldn’t do it because I had to stick with my plan of spontaneity, and it had to be on the Eastside.”

Over the ensuing two and a half decades, the Mexican-American photographer built up a vast and exquisite archive of pictures documenting the everyday life of the greater East Los Angeles area. “I simply photographed what was around me and didn’t set out with the intention of focusing on Latino, Chicano, or Raza culture,” Bojorquez explains in the afterword of Eastsiders (published by Little Big Man), a new book collecting together a selection of his cinematic, poignant, celebratory, and nostalgic images taken during these years. 

Described by writer Luis J. Rodriguez as “the most fascinating community in the country”, LA’s east side has a vivid and unique history and culture. “Over the decades, the already-rich flavour of this area intertwined with Mexican and Chicano customs like taquerias, botanicas, Day of the Dead, Mariachi musicians, taco trucks, piñatas hanging from grocery store ceilings, and much more,” Rodriguez explains in the foreword to Eastsiders. “Old brick buildings and Victorian homes clashed with poor single-room housing or large crime-ridden housing projects. Eastside communities became some of LA’s most densely-populated – in many places denser than Manhattan.”

From families mourning their lost sons, groups of kids gathering for illicit parties in vacant houses, and friends administering homemade tattoos while hanging out in front of the TV, Bojorquez distils fleeting, perhaps otherwise forgotten moments and encounters as he moved through the various neighbourhoods that made up his beloved Eastside.

Below, Gregory Bojorquez shares his intimate memories connected to a selection of some of Eastsiders’ most evocative images. 

Eastsiders is published by Little Big Man Books and is available now