Project: Leaving a Mark
I’ve been photographing street art and graffiti for several years now, where ever I come across it. From hasty scrawls to detailed artworks, abstract patterns to political messages. Graffiti can be a controversial subject; some people think it’s urban blight, has no value or is simply vandalism. It certainly can be all of those things, but that doesn’t change that it’s still fundamentally art – a form of human expression, and one that has a history as old as civilisation itself.
What interests me about it, and why I like to photograph it, is both its ephemeral nature and how it forms part of the texture of the world around us. Traditional two dimensional artwork is generally discrete, it has defined borders after which the world it conveys abruptly ends. Grafitti on the other hand does not, its world is our world. This makes it interesting photographically because you can both photograph the artwork itself, or the environment its in, or some combination of the two without the feeling that you’re simply creating a facsimile of someone else’s work.
Stencilled pieces, like Silvia and her bike above, are very popular – just look at anything by street artist Banksy. Personally though I prefer the painted on the spot type, as they are more spontaneous and have a uniqueness that stencilled works can’t match.
I love the dual textures in this detail shot, the fine paint flecks that make up the eye against the rough and ready chipboard it’s painted onto. Below is a detail of another, more abstract piece. Spray painted works that are done well usually have a fantastic feeling of energy about them.
Typically when you think of what’s used for graffiti, spray cans are the first thing that comes to mind. But most of us will have encountered many other forms – names and doodles scratched into tables, initials carved into tree trunks, expletives in marker pen on the back of toilet doors and so on. I’ve noticed that hand drawn stickers seem quite popular locally. These micro artworks add little splashes of colour to places that would be difficult to turn into canvasses with other mediums.
One of the perks of living in a fairly bohemian area, is that you’re probably more likely to run into something a little more thought provoking than your usual initials, tags and doodles. Whether poetic or political in nature as these pieces above and below.
Even fairly ugly pieces can make for interesting photographs. There are some great colours and textures in this decaying old garage door. The silver spray painted face (or whatever it is) shines brilliantly when ever the sun hits it, in sharp contrast with the dreary old green paint and rust stains.
In a world where every building in a city can have a CocaCola or a Visa logo present, I guess it’s only natural that people want to reclaim some of that space to express their own identity. Tagging is probably the most controversial form of graffiti, usually due to its repetition, frequent lack of obvious artistic merit and the way in which it appears to try to wrest a territory for its creator. It’s an aggressive form of the art. Like planting a flag on foreign soil, tagging is staking a claim on someone else’s property in a way that I feel more artistic pieces are not. Photographically I usually find tags on their own fairly uninteresting, instead it becomes about context. In the shot above the “Lovecats” mark is atop another, painted over tag, beneath a plethora of threatening signs. The tag on its own is meaningless, but in this context you get the sense of fighting against the rules, defying the wall’s owner’s attempts at silencing past expression. It’s hardly profound, but it’s a story nonetheless and makes the image more interesting.
A lot of effort clearly went into this piece, but it was very short lived, which I think highlights why it’s important to photograph these things and create a lasting record. Unusually it was made of painted paper, and as a result it began to deteriorate within a few days. I assume this method was used to avoid making any lasting damage to the old stone wall, which was considerate of the artist.
This detail of the artwork shown above was taken just a few days later and shows the paper starting to crack and peel. The artwork was removed entirely not long after.
Big commissioned murals like the one above can actually help rejuvenate an area, which nicely counters the idea that graffiti is only a sign of urban decay. The old brick railway arch makes a lovely frame for this piece.
Brickwork can add great texture and becomes as much a part of the artwork as the paint itself.
Some colourful graffiti can really improve otherwise bland, utilitarian buildings like the enclosed electric substation above.
With exception of the feature image at the top of this article, which was taken in Copenhagen, all the other images have been taken around Hebden Bridge, Leeds and Manchester in Northern England.
Unlike past project pieces I’ve written up here, I consider this one on-going and I’ll continue to document interesting street art and graffiti as I come across it. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at these images. As ever if you’d like to help support the site and my work please consider buying a print from my web store or on Etsy.