Aerosol is here to stay
2 Feb 2010
To the very day, there's plenty of people who loathe graffiti. This is pretty strange considered the way other parts of pop culture have set up homestead in true culture. Rock'n Roll, comics, movies, you name it - they all can be art, can be culture. Street art? Not so much. Sure you've got your exhibitions with graffiti writers turned official artists. You've got your Naegeli, your Basquiat and others. This is all good and well, to the extent recuperation can be good and well. But there's something amiss here. Something strange. Dealing with street art you suddenly walk dangerous grounds, close to illegality, close to the dirt and grime of the ghetto. Of course, this still doesn't nail it. Gangsta rap can be big art nowadays, there's no doubt about it. It's done for, it can be taught and studied at college. Street art on the other hand continues to defy recuperation. There's two ways in which it attacks the central value of our society: private property. Almost by definition, it takes place on private or otherwise restricted property. Give the writers some legal walls to paint and they'll shun them. Pubescent games of machismo and daredevil idiocy, but as a side effect we get a question mark behind those all important rules of private property. No. 2, it's free. Getting street art into a museum is a hard thing to do, because it's only truly alive on that strange middle ground between art and crime. Once you take it to Tate Modern, it's gone. This is because it feeds on its context, more so than any other genre of pop culture. And that makes it even harder to buy and sell. Sure people try to buy and sell it all the time, but it's a fickle commodity. Why should I go see graffiti mummies at a museum, when the streets are alive with the real deal?
So everything about street art is dubious: creation, distribution and consumption arouse suspicion. Even taking photographs of graffiti pieces can be dangerous, because graffiti artists are known to obsessively document by day what they've vandalized by night. Or so the people think. When I started including graffiti shots in my JPGmag stream, I repeatedly got comments questioning their value. Which seemingly had nothing to do with their aesthetics but rather with their morality (or lack thereof). Others have witnessed consequences much more extreme than that. Graffiti can cost your life - just remember Michael Stewart.
Granted, street art is often ugly. Human stupidity isn't confined to high art and officialdom, it'll seek its playgrounds anywhere. But strangely enough I sometimes find inadvertent beauty in the most meaningless taggings. It seems beauty is unavoidable in the long run. Yet it needs a beholder's eye to see that. So I think we street photographers, hobbyists, holgaists and shutter bugs have a mission here. Let's make our cameras show the world the unavoidable beauty of street art. Besides, we are the natural allies of the aerosol writers, scratchersand sticker wizards. Photography was once very much seen as a dubious endeavour, and today repressions against photographers pro and recreational seem to be on the rise. I can vouch for that because I've been threatened more than once by police, shop owners, passersby just because I held a camera. "Vandalism", "trespass", "private property" seem to be elastic concepts when it comes to street art and photography. But I love both, and I hope my pictures show it.
Also, you might want to take a look at OUTSIDE IN.