Because of a scheduling error, instead of photographing the Rams Aug. 14 preseason football game, I was assigned to hang out in Compton and South Los Angeles on a night shift to look for street takeovers. You know, that thing where a section of road is taken over for car stunting and general hooliganism.
I was working with reporter Nathan Solis and he gave me a list of potential locations. I spent about an hour and a half driving to and from these places and texting with the reporter, who was in a different part of the city, on what, if anything, was happening.
Around 12:20 a.m., I got a text that read, “Compton and Atlantic” so I pointed the car in that direction and roared off. Even very early in the morning it took a while to drive from West Compton to East Compton — the signal lights weren’t synchronized.
It took about 15 minutes to get there and I feared I had missed everything. I ditched the car a block away because of the sizable crowd. The early morning air was filled with tire smoke and the sounds of car engines bouncing off the rev limiter. I worked my way to the front of the throng for a closer view, jumping back on a couple of occasions as the cars drifted dangerously (or thrillingly) close depending on your state of mind. I recalled how some spectators had been struck at other gatherings and I really didn’t want to be TikTok-famous as “that-guy-who-got-nailed-in-Compton.”
I began photographing with my iPhone 13 trying my best to look like an enthusiastic fan. Why the iPhone you ask? Because it has a really good camera and because I’m a middle-aged guy — not the target demographic for these things — and I wanted to blend in as much as possible to not look like a narc.
I bought an app for the phone for photographing in the unprocessed image Raw mode but more importantly for letting me control the shutter speed.
I kept taking frame after frame, not seeing a strong, definitive image. It was street lighting with a lot of movement and many out-of-focus pictures. At 1:05 a.m., according to the time stamp, the picture that leads off this gallery happened. It was one in a series of nine frames, and it perfectly captured the youthful exuberance and festive mood of this (illegal) event.
After a couple more minutes, I was happy with what I had and decided to head back to the car to get my drone for some aerial photos. I walked past a young driver standing next to his car. I looked over and smiled and in a slow, soft voice he said, “Hello ... officer.” I laughed and thought, “Really? Do I look like a cop?”
When I reached the car, there were police lights coming up the street. It was 1:13 a.m. and I knew the party was over. Several more frames of the passing Sheriff’s Department cars and then it was time to head home.
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