At the London Tattoo Convention this year, I had the good fortune to finally bump into Edgar Hoill after a good two years of following his work from afar. The One Shot One Kill exhibition was particularly well attended and Hoill made himself a lot of new fans over the three day spectacular:
Thus, it was during one of the Fuel Girls sets that I decided would be a great time to do an interview – or so I thought. I figured it would be reasonably quiet and we could hear ourselves talk. If you’ve ever tried to interview somebody at a live event, you’ll know what I mean – but then the drums started! Still, as my old man used to say, just get the hell on with it.
Edgar Hoill’s story is a triumph of success in the face of adversity. If ever you were looking for a life-story that illustrated what equal parts of hard work, luck, loyalty and respect could get you, this has to be it. As we squirrel ourselves away in a corner of the exhibition complete with TV camera crew and the tribal rhythm of those Fuel Girls drums, he begins to tell me his story:
“I went to a high school in Texas that was about 80% white American rich kids and not very many of us Latinos and every time you looked at the school newspaper or the yearbook it was really noticeable that everybody in them was white and I was always saying:
'I want to be in the yearbook' but when I asked them why they wouldn’t take my picture to be in it, the only response I ever got was 'we only want to see our friends in the yearbook' – which really pissed me off.
So one day, I went to see the head teacher and I was like 'what’s up with this – they won’t take pictures of the Chicanos?' and he gave me the same answer that they did, that they just wanted their friends in there. I didn’t think that was right and I told them so. But one day, one of the teachers says to me 'well why don’t you do something about it?'
So the following semester, I started taking pictures – this is like ‘93/’94 – I started taking pictures of all the homies, the gangsters, all the punks - everybody that wasn’t your typical white person. I took pictures of the janitors and the lunch ladies as well and all of these people I started putting in the yearbook myself."
Did you ever take pictures of the white kids as well?
“No, but the thing about it was that I started getting really popular from doing this and everybody - even those white kids - really liked my pictures and I would get hit up by them to take their pictures as well, but you know, I had to say 'Fuck you - when I wanted you to take our pictures you blew us off, so now I’m blowing you'. So basically I was fighting for my people because the Chicanos and the Latinos - we were always looked down on. For instance, our soccer team was the best in the school but they would never do articles on them – they would feature their soccer team who sucked.
So, the more I did this, the more people would identify themselves with me and they really liked that I was doing something for them. This was Houston – it was really racist and the rich kids lived on one side of the freeway and the poor kids lived on the other. So anyway, I got pretty close with a lot of my teachers and they always supported me because – even though I was always in trouble – they knew I was doing it for the right reasons and they were always supportive.
Eventually, I started working in a camera store after school and I was meeting a lot of photographers and I would go out and assist them on jobs and that’s how it really all started off. Then I started working for some local newspapers and I would shoot underground concerts and stuff. Then one day I met a guy who came into the store looking for some equipment and he was really stressing out because he needed to take some pictures and his photographer had let him down.
So I said something like ‘Well, I’ll help you out – there’s no need to buy a camera because I have my own equipment’ and then we used the store equipment anyway and then just took it back - I used to do that all the time. He was actually the owner of Lowrider magazine – so I shot some things for his magazine and that was when I started getting recognised by Lowrider which is who I work for now. After a couple of interviews, they hired me as regular freelancer and after a couple of years of all of this, I was doing OK for myself. I had regular freelancing work and I was the manager of the camera store and everything was working out great.
Then one day, one of the hurricanes – I forget what its name was - it wiped out the camera store. Some trees came down and took out the whole drainage system. They had hurricane insurance but they didn’t have flood insurance because it wasn’t in a flood area and the store ended up 18 feet under water, so and they went bankrupt meaning I was shit out of luck. Luckily, the guys at the magazine said that they wanted me full time and I was hired on the Wednesday.
I had my first job to do on the Saturday, so I packed everything I could in my car and drove on the Thursday and Friday and got to work. So, you know, I always remind myself to stay grounded and treat everybody with respect because you never know what kind of shit can happen…”
..and it’s easy to end up back on the street too, right?
“Oh yeah – my family is always real supportive though and anytime I ever start to slide backwards, they kick my ass and remind me that I’m fucking up stuff that’s important. People like and respect my work now. I’m one of the very few people that are allowed in some of these places to do my work. It’s an honour to be able to do things like this and the only reason I’m able to do it is because they like what I do and we respect each other – I take care of them and they take care of me. Lowrider opened a lot of doors for me.”
When did you start to take it to the exhibition stage?
“One of my friends, invited me to be a judge at a Lowrider show and he saw the stuff I was doing and he said that he really wanted me to bring some stuff out to exhibit to see what people thought of it – and people were loving it. That was really the first time that I realised people could be into my work not only in my town, but internationally as well. It opened other doors too - I never thought I would have shot Snoop Dog, or worked closely with the big Mexican bands I have.”
The drums in the background begin to die out, which is a good time to make ourselves mobile and get the story behind each of the display items. They say that every picture tells a story, but somehow, every picture doesn’t seem to tell quite as much of a story of Edgar Hoill’s do.