graffiti on wall
Photography

Some photos and thoughts on Graffiti – By Rock

July 2, 2020

I was recently looking back through some of my photographs from the last few years and noticed that every now and then an image of graffiti would pop up in a roll. It seems that whenever I come across it while out and about with a camera, I tend to take a snap or two. Now, I don’t mind a bit of graffito (true spelling of the singular). Not the crap ‘tags’ that appear randomly on noticeboards, lampposts, shop windows, garage doors etc. Nor other wanton acts of criminal damage on peoples’ property. But the right stuff in the right place…I do admittedly like sometimes.

Maybe it’s the archaeologist in me: graffiti is, in a sense, a record of human activity. Indeed, I have had the privilege of climbing up several wobbly ladders to the roof of a Georgian Mansion house undergoing restoration in order to photograph, for posterity, the pencilled graffiti left behind by service personnel billeted in its burnt out shell during the war.

graffiti tag on hotel

crap tagging – this post is not concerned with this form of vandalism (AGFA Optima Sensor Flash, Kodak VR400 Plus expired 2009)

james written on ww2 pillbox

nor the de-facing of historical monuments – sorry James (Kodak Funsaver disposable loaded with Kodak 800)

What exactly is graffiti? As I’ve already alluded to it is the plural of a graffito. This dates back to ancient times and means to scratch or etch, usually onto a wall, especially of a political nature but also often rude or humorous. It can take the form of a drawing or slogan. Over ten thousand individual pieces have been recorded at the Roman site of Pompeii which attests to its popularity. By its very nature, most of it is public and much of it is illicit.

photo of graffiti in dried cement wall

not Romano-British wall etching – this is the subway under Strood train station (Yashica J2, Kodak Gold 200 expired 2012, flash)

Nowadays, the scratches have been replaced with paints, and whilst still very much socio-political there is also a strong aesthetic element. Often skillfully applied, and with artistic merit, this street art can certainly be striking. I tend to find graffiti visually pleasing.

photo of a red car painted on a wall

artistic endeavour – certainly brightens up this dull wall (Olympus OM20, Zuiko 50mm, Kodak Ultramax 400 expired 2012)

photo of urban art in green letters

a full, completed graffito is called a ‘masterpiece’ – I think this ‘wildstyle’ is quite attractive (Polaroid disposable loaded with Fuji 200 expired 2012, flash)

photo of a tree with graffito message

the permanent marker is another modern tool – even on trees (Chinon Pocket 110, Fuji Superia 200 expired 2009)

Graffiti habits, styles and uses have changed over the course of time. Some forms have evolved almost exclusively for particular areas or purpose. For example, the so-called graffiti murals of Northern Ireland. Surrounded in a backdrop of sectarianism and violence, and now reconciliation, they are very much culturally significant.

photo of painted mural

gorgeous wall mural – this is not Northern Ireland but London’s Tottenham Court Road (Polaroid disposable loaded with Fuji 200 expired 2012, flash)

Other forms of publicly daubed mural have entered the art market. You only have to think of Banksy. But did you know that Picasso was up for a bit of unsanctioned doodling? He would remove a crayon from his pocket and help himself to a section of wall as his canvas. An 8 foot chunk of plastered wall, containing his graffito/mural chiseled from a flat in Torrington Square, is displayed at London’s Wellcome Collection – if you want to see it.

smiley face painted on wall

not a Banksy – just a simple emoji (Olympus OM20, Zuiko 50mm, Kodak Ultramax 400 expired 2012)

Graffiti art has also been put to good use in times of emergency. During the 2014 Ebola crisis, visual artist Stephen Doe painted public walls around Monrovia in Liberia, a bold red (for danger, for attention). He added simple illustrations highlighting the symptoms of the disease and some necessary measures. This bottoms up approach, from street level if you like, was likely better received by the everyday residents of the city; as opposed to the distrust in the official messages from their government and ex-colonial European powers telling them what to do.

The subject of graffiti is varied, socially complex and generally contentious. But I kinda like seeing it – sometimes! I am not an expert, so I’ll say no more and finish with a few photographs…

photo of graffiti

construction site hoardings – an obvious canvas (AGFA Optima Sensor Flash, Kodak VR400 Plus expired 2009)

graffiti slogan on wall

a graffito slogan – political message or just plain anarchy? (AGFA Optima Sensor Flash, Kodak Ultramax 400 expired 2010)

graffiti on wall

for public display – actually much graffiti is to be found on walls off the beaten track (Petri 7s, Fuji Superior 200)

shell of house with graffiti

Ramshackle buildings will attract graffiti – although not much artistry here (Chinon Pocket 110, Fukkatsu Color 400)

photo of graffiti on building

Same building, to the side – a better effort (Chinon CE Memotron, Helios 44 58mm, Fuji c200)

photo of graffiti on wall

and again – a third camera/film combination (Voigtlaender Vitoret, AGFA Vista Plus 200)

street in london with graffiti on wall

side street in London – not an uncommon sight of graffiti (AGFA Optima Sensor Flash, Kodak VR400 Plus expired 2009)

photo of london road with graffiti, bt tower and euston tower

another London street – that’s the BT Tower and Euston Tower in the distance (AGFA Optima Sensor Flash, Kodak VR400 Plus expired 2009)

photo of underpass

underpasses and tunnels are perfect for graffiti artists – here is a mix of tags, throw-ups and masterpieces (Polaroid disposable loaded with Fuji 200 expired 2012, flash)

Cheers, Rock (www.rocksreflex.com)

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    John Furlong
    July 2, 2020 at 10:21 am

    My all-time favourite – now sadly removed – was on wall around a large roundabout near Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow.
    It read ‘Nicolas Parsons is the neo-opiate of the Masses’
    It was there for many years – I reckon it underwent several restorations and to my mind ought to have been accorded Listed Status!

    • Reply
      Rock
      July 2, 2020 at 11:28 am

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. As historians and archaeologists, we record all forms of human activity. Only old graffiti isgenerally recorded for posterity. I’m not aware of anyone making a serious database of it – one day we will look back and wish we could remember stuff (maybe there is a project there for me…!).

  • Reply
    Huss
    July 2, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    Very cool, but I think that perhaps you need to get your film developed someplace else! All my film is expired and it never looks like that..

    I’ve been documenting the CoVid graffiti

    https://www.flickr.com/gp/[email protected]/v20N14

    • Reply
      Rock
      July 2, 2020 at 8:32 pm

      Yeah, not the best examples of expired film – probably more to do with my exposure and storage. I’m much more precise with it these days.

  • Reply
    Sacha Cloutier
    July 3, 2020 at 6:30 am

    Graffiti is an underrated part of human history. Is a sense art sort of started as “graffiti” on a cavern wall. Great piece.

    Up until a few years back, when it was sadly torn down to make room for condos, there was an old factory that had stood abandoned for several decades in Montreal. As it lay there for years, neglected by its owners, it was not forgotten by a specific type of artists. Over the years it garnered the name “The Graffiti Factory”. Two massive floors (25 foot ceiling on the main floor and 15 feet on the second) and a great roof.

    The amazing thing about this place was that the art was ever-changing. You could take some shots one week and the next, whole murals had changed. While some would argue that an artist painting over the very fine work of another should be sacrilege, this was the way of the Graffiti Factory. Here is my Facebook album that includes some shots from there.

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.419834745264&type=3

  • Reply
    Castelli Daniel
    July 13, 2020 at 11:09 pm

    My wife & I visited Florence Italy in 2015. I was our retirement gift to ourselves. Day two in city I stumbled across the Mona Lisa on a wall. I was blown away. The graffiti around the city could have been the entire focus of my photography. The euro traffic signs were another delight, altered by Clet Abraham. Hope to return after Covid-19!

    • Reply
      Rock
      July 14, 2020 at 12:26 am

      Sounds pretty cool

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