L.A. Times photojournalist recalls the street takeover he photographed with his phone

A person hangs out of the passenger side window of a car at an early morning street takeover.
A participant strikes an exultant pose during an early morning street takeover at the intersection of Compton Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue in East Compton in August.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Share

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.

Cars drifts around spectators at Compton Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue in East Compton
With wheels spinning and tires smoking, cars drift around spectators at a street takeover at Compton Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue in East Compton on Aug. 14.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Advertisement

Passengers hang out of a spinning car at an early morning street takeover
Passengers hang out of a spinning car at an early morning street takeover at Compton Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue in East Compton in August.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Sheriff's deputies arrive at the early morning street takeover in East Compton.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement

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.