Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pat Hamou's "Real Machers: Portraits of American Jewish Gangsters: Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery

The above video from the opening of Pat Hamou's "Real Machers: Portraits of American Jewish Gangsters. It's at the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, 1529 16th St. NW; through May 17, free; 202-777-3208, (Dupont Circle)
from the Washington Express by Amy Cavanaugh
MONETREAL-BASED GRAPHIC DESIGNER Pat Hamou's "Real Machers: Portraits of American Jewish Gangsters," brings 50 drawings to the Washington DCJCC and five to the Museum of Crime and Punishment next week. Many of the drawings are based on mug shots, and Hamou draws attention to an often-overlooked part of American history.
» EXPRESS: How did you develop an interest in Jewish gangsters?
» HAMOU: I came across a lineup photo of Abe "Kid Twist" Reles in a New York Daily News book of old crime scene photos [and] I became instantly mesmerized by his features. I have always had a love of old vintage photos, and how voiceless they can be, so combined with a love of noir and Weegee, I was off and running. I thought [Reles] just had a great face, and wanted to try and capture it, so I just sat down and drew him purely for my own pleasure and then wanted to find out more about him. As I dug in a bit more ...; the entire history suddenly opened up to me ... [and] one portrait became two, then three.
» EXPRESS: Where did you do research?
» HAMOU: I researched images at the New York City Municipal Archives and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In a couple of instances, I came in contact with relatives who sent me a couple of personal photos. It's always a thrill to come in contact with surviving family members who do not look at their connection as a dark family secret and are excited to share anecdotes about this "exotic" member of their family.
» EXPRESS: What do you hope people learn from the show?
» HAMOU: To think about the whole notion of the Jewish gangster and how it fits into America's past, and the social implications and immigrant conditions of the time. ... They were bucking the system, operating outside of what was considered the norm ... and you can't help but admire their nerve. I'm not looking at glorifying them in any sort of positive light outside of part colorful character, part chutzpah, part reflection of their times and how it may change people's perceptions of certain Jews of the period.
It's always in the back of my mind that their high activity period ... came to an end just as the Holocaust was to begin. Two different worlds and an ocean away, yes, but one of Jew as defender/aggressor, and the other as victim, forms an interesting parallel.
» EXPRESS: Do you plan to keep working with the subject of Jewish gangsters?
» HAMOU: This is an ongoing project. There are a few personalities/gangsters I'm going to do, and it would be great if the exhibit goes to other places. ... New York would be my obvious next choice, since it's an integral part of the city's past. I also would like to see the project end up in book form, as that's been the primary goal from the start.

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