How did a Scottish photographer get inside America’s strip club scene?

How did Ivar Wigan, a Perth-born, London-based photographer, infiltrate feared gangs and Atlanta strip clubs? “I lived in this motel and went to the club every night for eight or nine weeks,” he says of his series The Gods, recently exhibited at P-A-M, “until I knew all the dancers, all the security, I knew the management, the bar staff, I was the guy who was there every night.”

The Gods focuses on the street culture of America’s southern cities; Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles. The communities depicted — largely black, often deprived of resources and driven to alternative sources of income — represent a side of America that inspire fear and fascination in equal measure among many of its inhabitants.

There is a charged dynamic implicit in a middle-class, European photographer documenting their lives for consumption in the cosy environs of a west London art gallery. Wigan distances himself from a grander, societal interpretation of his photos and stresses that his motives were relatively simple:

“I was really looking to see what made this scene tick, what incentivised people to go to these events, what incentivised this culture to invest in the things they do, he says.  “The cars, the clothes, what makes it all happen, that’s what I was setting out to capture. The highlights.”

Wigan’s pictures depict strippers, gang members and low-riders, markers of a lifestyle and a culture often misrepresented and misconstrued to the wider world. This distorted portrayal is distilled in an anecdote behind one of the shots from The Gods.

Bloods, 2012

“The Bloods are a very violent street gang, feared and reviled all over America, involved in homicides, drug dealing and such,” Wigan says. “I met them by chance in the street; I was photographing a rapper in the street for his music project, and they pulled up in a blacked out car.

“They were staring at us, and I thought ‘oh shit, are they going to come and snatch my camera’? But they bounced out of the car and said: ‘Hey, why ain’t you taking our picture man, what’s wrong with us?’ They weren’t aggressive — they just wanted to be included.”

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