This past August, I spent a few days in Cave-In-Rock, IL at the 13th annual Gathering Of The Juggalos, Insane Clown Posse's Dionysian five-day music festival. Based mostly on the sense of unity and empowerment that Juggalos feel at the festival, it was hands-down one of the most moving experiences of my life. Since I went I've found myself very sensitive to anti-Juggalo sentiment, including the FBI's classification of the group as a violent gang. I've also found it very difficult to describe the Gathering to anyone who hasn't been there. When I do end up in a chance encounter with someone who's attended, I end up feeling like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now when he finds Dennis Hopper out in the jungle.
Photographer Daniel Cronin has been traveling to the Gathering since 2010, following in the footsteps of trailblazing journalists and photographers like Thomas Morton, Camille Dodero, and Nate "Igor" Smith. Cronin treks to the Gathering out there with a large format four-by-five camera (the kind with the hood) and takes strikingly intimate portraits of the men and women in attendance. The photographs are far and away the best photos of Juggalos, Juggalettes, Floobs, and Carnies ever taken, and Cronin's sensitive eye avoids the easy pitfalls of derision and condescension that plagues similar work.
Prestel just released Cronin's work in a gorgeous book called The Gathering Of The Juggalos. The book features photographs shot at three consecutive Gatherings between 2010 and 2012. You can snag your own copy through Daniel's website. This week, I called up Daniel to chat about Juggalos, the Gathering, and the vanishing point between punk rock and the Dark Carnival.
All photos, besides Nate "Igor" Smith's below, are by Daniel Cronin.
Daniel shooting a portrait of ICP. Photo by Nate "Igor" Smith for Driven By Boredom.
Noisey: So how did you first get interested in Juggalos and ICP?
Daniel Cronin: The first time I ever heard of ICP was in the mid to late 90s. My brother and I used to listen to Love Line late at night, and it seemed like ICP would be guests on there every few months. That's the first I ever heard of them, and they were pretty funny. I never listened to their music though. Later, when I was in high school, a kid I went to grammar school with got a Hatchet Man tattoo and I remember him getting so much shit from everyone else. At some point after college I was walking around in Portland on a day when Twizted was playing. There were about 100 people lined up at nine in the morning. At that point I was feeling very stuck with photography, and I was looking for a long-term, slow study of a specific subject matter. I realized that there wasn't anything like that about Juggalos, and I took it from there.
The book isn't just about Juggalos though, it's specifically about the Gathering, which is the primary zone of Juggalo empowerment--if you want to get academic about it. When you first attended the Gathering, was it as a photographer or as a fan?
My first year was in 2010, and I went as a photographer. ICP had recently come through Portland, and I'd taken about 20 portraits of Juggalos outside the show. I heard about the Gathering and tried to get a press pass, but I never heard back and ended up buying a ticket myself and heading out. The first year I was out there, it was just me and Igor Smith, a New York photographer. He shot all the photos for the Village Voice piece that Camille Dodero did. Have you read that?
Yeah, I have. It's great.
They were pretty much the only two other media people who were there in 2010. There were a few other people, but it was pretty sparse, mostly Juggalos.
I noticed in your closing note that you thank Igor and Camille for blazing the path.
Yeah, we were all out there together but I'd never met them before. It was all our first year and we were pretty shellshocked because of the whole spectacle of the thing. We all knew that things were completely crazy, but that there was something really special going on there. I always say that the Gathering feels like a punk rock festival, just with Juggalos and ICP. It feels very DIY, and ICP embodies that ethos. For example, them saying, "Fuck the FBI," and actually going out and suing them is pretty awesome and punk rock in my book.
I completely agree. In some ways the Gathering feels like one of the most pure distillations of punk rock ideals. The thing I can't get a handle on is whether or not Juggalos are brutally nihilistic or incredibly idealistic.
I think nihilistic is a good way to put it, but the majority of the times that I've hung out with Juggalos has been at the Gathering, which is an incredibly idealistic moment out of their year. Once they're home they go back to getting shit on by normal culture, that's where the nihilism comes back out.
Even in the lyrics to "What Is a Juggalo," there's a degree of uncertainty of what constitutes actually being Juggalo. Granted, the track itself is pretty tongue-in-cheek, but it's also a random assortment of different elements.
I think that track shows ICP's brilliance. They're kind of all over the place, somewhat vague, and open to interpretation. It is tongue-in-cheek, but it's one of those things where as you long as you want to be who you want to be, then who gives a fuck what other people think. I think that's kind of what it boils down to. Ultimately, being yourself and not being apologetic for who you are is what being a Juggalo seems to be, at least for me.
What were some of the challenges that you faced when you were photographing Juggalos?
I think the first year I was a little overwhelmed with it all, but the second year I was definitely comfortable and knew how to approach it. There were only two times where I got confronted by people telling me to get the fuck out of here, but that's fair. When I had the camera out on the tripod and was walking around, I wouldn't go near the open air drug markets, because I don't want to photograph that anyway. It'd just be more photos of Juggalos using drugs, which are all over, plus there are drugs at every music festival. It's not unique. I didn't want to violate that space. I think it's cool that they don't allow photography near the drugs. They want people to feel safe with what they are doing. Some more challenges are the heat, humidity, and sunlight. I live in Oregon… it doesn't get that hot or humid. The people weren't really the issue. It was great after the first because I'd be walking around and people would recognize me and say hi.
Did you meet Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope?
Yeah. Last summer I got to meet ICP and do a portrait with them. I had an iPad with some photos so I could show them what I was doing. They were like "Yeah man, we've seen you the last few years walking around with that crazy camera!" I showed them the photos and they thought they were really beautiful. "Let us know if we need any help with the project. We'll write the foreword." That was really cool. That was the same with other Juggalos when I knew I had the book deal. This last year, I had to explain to people that this might end up in a book and most of them thought it was awesome and congratulated me.
Your photos are so intimate, but ultimately your subjects don't have a lot of control over what you do with them. I'm amazed at how little Juggalos seem to care about how their images are used, considering that they're so often represented as a gang of drug-abusing rapist murderers.
The few times when subjects got defensive, I totally got it. I completely understand that they've been shat on by the media before. To them, I'm just another guy with a camera who's going to misrepresent them. But for the most part, everyone is encouraging and wants to be involved. It doesn't come off as "Hey, put me on film!" There are so many things about this festival that you can't put your finger on even when you've been there. I would tell my friends, "If I was a Juggalo, I'd go to this thing every year." And as a non-Juggalo, I enjoy going at this point. Besides getting to interact and shoot more, the lineups are just awesome. I've seen all of my childhood hip-hop dream performances I thought I'd never see. This last year I thought it was one of the best hip hop festivals I've seen in a long time. I couldn't believe some of the acts they got on there.
Now that you have this book out, are you done with Juggalo culture?
I still want to go back out there and shoot more. I'm just hoping that Juggalos like the book.
Are you worried about that?
Yes and no. My interactions with Juggalos about the book were all positive. But things change when they realize that this is a physical product that someone is selling. I think the photos are honest, and I'm genuinely interested in this culture. I think they have something special going on, and I'd like to share that.
If you live in San Francisco, Gallery Carte Blanche is hosting a release party tonight at six. You can find more information on that right here.
Ben was at the Gathering this year (for work) and he will be going back every year from now on (for fun). You can meet him there, or follow him on Twitter - @b_shap
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