On a rare rainy afternoon in Los Angeles, photographer Cory Johnson found himself couch-bound and idly flipping through Netflix when he stumbled across a documentary called Cartel Land. If you're not familiar, it tells the story of a few vigilante groups along the US/Mexico border who are currently at war with the cartels.
He explains: "As I watched the documentary, old curiosities were reignited. I first heard of the existence of militias, citizen armies, and 'patriot groups' back in 1994. They've been a fascination of mine ever since. Who are the people who join these groups? What is their motivation and what do they hope to accomplish? When I finished the documentary, these questions still remained and I realised I could find out for myself. So I reached out and made contact with Arizona Border Recon – one of the groups featured in the film."
After a series of emails, Cory was finally granted permission to meet them and take their portraits. He and his business partner and photographer Neil Kremer made the trip to the Recon's operating base near Sasabe, Arizona. All of their photographs were shot on location during the group's most recent operation.
Cory added: "We make no judgement on whether what they're doing is right or wrong, good or bad. Our only agenda for the project was to show each member's own personal truth. Some feel they're heroes, some are more humble. Some miss the camaraderie of the military, while others long to satisfy the sense of duty they felt when they served. Some lost family to drugs or drug-related violence, and others are angry about lost jobs. Some want to 'protect the American way of life', while others are more thoughtful. They all welcomed us with open arms and, for that, we are grateful."
Cory and Neil – also known as Kremer Johnson Photography – are a team specialising in character-based and narrative-driven environmental and studio portraiture. Their images are both stylised and authentic, showcasing their subjects in engaging and impactful ways.
Via direct submission | All images courtesy of Kremer Johnson Photography