Dan Cronin started photographing Juggalos in 2010, after catching an Insane Clown Posse performance in Portland, Oregon. There, he met a fan of the group who invited him to the Gathering of the Juggalos, a kind of Burning Man meets Bonaroo for fans of the facepainted rappers and the lifestyle they embody. Cronin attended, and so began odyssey that led the photographer to The Gathering of the Juggalos, his new book of photos from three years of the titular festival.

Along the way, he found drugs, naked people, and a pervading sense of camaraderie and mutual respect among the members of the oft-maligned subculture. Cronin’s photos capture festival attendees indulging in the giant communal party the Gathering affords–skinny dipping, barbecuing, riding in a flatbed truck fashioned from a school bus–but also in stark, solitary respite from the crowd.

ANIMAL spoke to Cronin via e-mail about his experiences at the gathering and the friends he’s made as an honorary Juggalo.

I’d be interested to hear the stories behind a few of the photos. What was the guy with all the jars of weed like? Was he selling it?

There is actually a makeshift outdoor marketplace called the “Drug Bridge” where you can buy anything from weed to shrooms, whippets, Jell-O shots, pretty much anything. Photography is not allowed there and rightly so. Drug use/sales happen at every music festival and are not exclusive to the Gathering, so it really is not that unique, but I admire that they have created a ‘safe space’ for these transactions to occur without people worrying about being filmed or photographed.

I’m not sure if the guy with the jars of weed was selling it – I didn’t ask, it was none of my business. People are also pretty generous there so for all I know he could have been sharing it with the folks he was camping with or people walking by.

What about the group of Juggalos posing with the trashed car that’s up on its side?

This image is of a completely destroyed car that the Juggalos dismantled with some basic tools, brute force, and sheer will. It’s the perfect example of how Juggalos police themselves and how you will be handed a healthy dose of vigilante justice if you go to the Gathering with ill intentions. The car was left behind by an attendee who was caught stealing from people’s tents, and the Juggalos ran him out of the festival and destroyed the car he left behind. It was a pretty amazing thing to watch, and amazingly, they cleaned it all up after they were done. Watching 20 or so Juggalos lift an entire car frame with engine block and transmission still attached onto the back of a trailer was pretty cool.

What’s it like being an “outsider” of sorts at the gathering? Would you recommend it to someone who doesn’t identify as a Juggalo?

This is a hard question to answer. If you honestly feel like you would enjoy yourself there and want to participate and interact then yes, why not? Go have fun, it’s an amazing event. But if your intentions are to gawk or poke fun or ridicule then, no.  Please don’t go, that’s not what this event is about.

I also don’t feel like I should be speaking for the Juggalos, whose event this really is. I would suggest for someone who is curious about it to find someone who is a Juggalo or who’s been before and ask them one-on-one. Not for permission, but to hear their personal experiences and what it was like for them and why they like going. Maybe you two could share a campsite next year.

What kinds of reactions did your subjects have to being photographed?

Overall, 99% of the people I asked to photograph agreed after I told them what I was doing and the perspective I was coming from.  I think the fact that this was a personal project and that I wasn’t shooting for someone else or being paid to be there really helped.

A lot of the folks I photographed actually fed me, gave me a beer, a bottle of water or shot of vodka. It’s great! The last year of shooting I knew I had the book deal so I would let people know that my intention was to put out a book of the photos and that their photo could end up in the final edit. Most of them were really excited for me and wished me luck and were happy that I was finding success doing what I loved. You can’t beat that.

What’s your personal feeling about ICP’s music and aesthetics? Did you find your attitudes changing after spending so much time in the culture?

I think ICP is way smarter and savvier than they let on or than people give them credit for. They have single-handedly created and nurtured this entire subculture that is now larger than just ICP and Psychopathic Records, their record label. It has an overall ethos, it has a mythology, it knows how to capitalize on spectacle. It’s pretty brilliant if you just sit back and think about it all. There are no corporate sponsors at the Gathering, and to me that is really refreshing.

They also get to curate the entire line-up of amazing acts every year. I’ve seen some amazing performances while I’ve been out there by non-ICP-affiliated groups: Naughty by Nature, Ice Cube, Warren G, Redman and Method Man, Busta Rhymes, E-40, The Geto Boys, George Clinton… the list goes on.

When I started this project, I knew there was something special going on, but it’s easy to write it off because of the way Juggalos are portrayed in the media and what they seem to be on the surface. Really, this is just their punk rock. They felt outcast and different and rather than finding a Black Flag album they found a copy of The Great Milenko and a group of like-minded folks to hang out with. There really is a DIY undertone to the whole event.  Last year I got asked if I was a Juggalo. I said no, and they responded with, “Dude, you’ve been out here 3 years in a row, you’re a Juggalo.”

The Gathering of the Juggalos, which includes 100 pages of Cronin’s photos and a forward from Gawker’s Camille Dodero, is available for pre-order now from Prestel Publishing.