Murder #38, Negus McLean, Edmonton
Murder #38, Negus McLean, Edmonton
Negus McLean, 15, was stabbed to death in Edmonton after being chased by around 7 young men riding bicycles and wearing hooded jumpers and facemasks. Negus was then beaten with metal poles before being stabbed in the thigh and chest with such force that the blade snapped off in his body. He was found injured in Westminster Road and died after being taken to hospital. 4 young men were charged and convicted of the murder.
I took the 102 bus from near my house to Edmonton when I heard a teenager had been stabbed to death by a gang. Normally I waited a few days but I decided to go to the murder site as soon as I had heard. The bus route terminated not far from Westminster Road and so I walked before I surprisingly encountered some news photographers and a couple of TV news teams. The photographers kept away from the scene and used long lenses but I was a bit perplexed since the police tape was down and the police were already letting people into the street. One of the photographers warned me that there were some mourners down the street and did not want to be photographed. I looked down the street and sure enough I could see a small crowd of young people around flowers marking the spot where Negus McClean had died.
After a few minutes I sucked in some air and with camera mounted on a tripod I walked toward the mourners. Having to ask people grieving a death if I can photograph them and explaining why was the hardest part of my project. I was nervous but I forced myself to do this. There was about 15 teenagers gathered around the flower memorial and I went up to them and I told them I was sorry to disturb them, that I was sorry for their loss. I told them I was a photographer photographing all the places where people where murdered in London and if I could please be allowed to photograph them as they mourned their friend. I would keep a respectful distance and photograph from across the street for a few minutes and then I would leave them alone. Expecting to be told no I was surprised when they said yes and thanked me for asking. A couple of the older boys walked away and one hid behind a lamppost but otherwise they let me get on with it. I worked quickly and when I looked through my viewfinder I knew I was looking at something special. The way the kids were aligned against the wall crying, texting on their phones or just looking numbed was different from anything I had photographed for my project so far. I was now nervous that I wasn’t getting this photo right. I kept checking my focus and my exposures, worried that I was gonna fuck up the photo.
I only photographed from one position for about 20 minutes. I kept wanting to stay but I felt I had intruded long enough and my presence was preventing other people from approaching the scene. I packed up my gear and crossed the street to thank the teenagers. I gave one of the my card and said they should free free to contact me if they wanted a copy of the photograph. I passed the other photographers still to afraid too get near the scene on my way out. I was a bit stunned at what I had witnessed and kept checking the back of my digital camera as I sat on the bus on my way home. At home I loaded the photos on to my laptop and looked at the images for a long time. I hadn’t planned on showing my images to anyone until the project was finished but I thought that this photo needed to be seen and I called up Roger Tooth at the Guardian and asked him to look at the image and to see if he would consider it for the Eyewitness double spread in the newspaper. A few minutes later he rang and said they would use it.
On the 13th of April, the image ran in the Guardian newspaper and soon my phone kept ringing. The image got a lot of attention and soon I was getting a lot of queries about my project from the BBC, other newspapers in Britain and Europe and even a few european radio shows. I think if I can say my project was successful, I can say it was this image that made it a success. It brought a lot of attention and it convinced me I was headed in the right direction. The image was later exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery and at the Foto8 Summershow bringing further exposure to my project.
I may not have continued my project if I had not made this image of young people mourning their friend Negus McLean. Its always an uneasy relationship that photographers have when they photograph tragic events. Its easy to forget the tragic circumstances that surround a photograph. People start commenting on the aesthetic qualities of a photograph over the content of the image itself. It can be easy to forget that a young 15 year old boy was stabbed to death brutally by a gang chasing him and his young brother.
I am proud of the photograph because It shows young people not as something to be frightened of but as vulnerable human beings. Too many times we see young people portrayed as potential criminals to be feared. Gang violence is a problem but if you believe the tabloid coverage you would end up believing that London was teeming with gangs of teenagers armed with knives looking for their next victim. I know this is not the case.
I wish I could thank those kids who let me into their grief stricken world even if just for a short time. I expected them to call me after the photograph got a lot of exposure but they never did. An Evening Standard reporter tried to track down the kids in the image but got nowhere. I have travelled a lot throughout my career and have learned one overall lesson. That human beings all over the world are very kind even in the most stressful of situations. I have learned to trust my instincts and learned never to be afraid of anyone unless they gave me good reason. I am very glad I wasn’t afraid of those kids gathered on Westminster Road mourning the loss of their friend Negus McLean.