Photo Essay

Aerosol is here to stay

Bots shall inherit the earth

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.

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15 responses

  • Jamie Webb

    Jamie Webb (Deleted) gave props (2 Feb 2010):

    great story, im also massively inspired to document peoples markings and messages. i see them as a sign of our time, just like cave art would be a sign of its time, if enough graffiti is left then people of the future will learn a lot about us from peoples marks.

  • diana

    diana (Deleted) gave props (3 Feb 2010):

    great! voted!

  • Cary Jenkins

    Cary Jenkins gave props (4 Feb 2010):

    Good story and photos.

  • bill purvis

    bill purvis said (6 Feb 2010):

    Thanks for the link Marcus.

    Nicely stated views and I agree with them too.

    I photographed graffiti along our urban guided busway system, The Obahn, in the 1990s.

  • Christopher J Chalk

    Christopher J Chalk gave props (21 Feb 2010):

    Nicely done Marcus, very informative with great images. Voted

  • Michael Kenney

    Michael Kenney gave props (24 Feb 2010):

    Fantastic essay. You make a compelling argument. Kudos

  • Bonnie Woodson

    Bonnie Woodson (Deleted) said (27 Feb 2010):

    Bravo must vote for this story♥

  • Maura Wolfson-Foster

    Maura Wolfson-Foster gave props (2 Mar 2010):

    Fabulous - my enthusiastic vote Marcus....!!!!! :)

  • Autumn Letters

    Autumn Letters (Deleted) gave props (7 Mar 2010):

    Great article, you've got my vote!

  • Christopher Godish

    Christopher Godish said (1 Apr 2010):

    Thank you for sharing you love of our art with JPG. I have argued countless hours of my life for the validity and importance of graffiti and street art; to the point where arguing became invalid and unimportant. To each their own, right? Someone mentioned the significance of Lascaux and other cave paintings. Perhaps, someday, when were a long-gone civilization, graffiti will take it's rightful place among the masters.

  • Jason Laderoute

    Jason Laderoute said (5 May 2010):

    Very Very Cool Write; I can respect your Perspective here Marcus;

    Having some time ago found myself Tagging and Conveying my own versions of Colorful Vandalism which you have have brought to my retrospect had it's place in my life, where once a young man full of Teenage Angst looking for Mediums for my Artistic Rebellion, and finding it on the Property of Corporate Assets, National Installments and International Logistic Modes. Freight trains were a popular Canvas and made appealing to Tag by a historical underground which remains to be definitely defined as the underground has so many different faces, but you tend to find the shades thereof in Aerosolevant Colors. Tagging was how it began for me, though nothing more than a low key stupidity but at the end of my Graffiti interest more elaborate displays were endeavored. Sadly my expressive angsts were removed and my various tags "owned" by more territorial "artists", however readin your "essay" here has brought back to my memory feelings and moments I had forgotten, perhaps I would never have been able to remember them as what I am able to at this moment for having read you write here. I have to admit too I am even encouraged to think about rendering some color once again, perhaps my camera will allow me to share what I create if I do come across the need and opportunity to set free once again.

  • Geraldine Navarrete

    Geraldine Navarrete gave props (14 Sep 2010):

    "Let's make our cameras show the world the unavoidable beauty of street art." Perfectly stated Marcus. :)

  • Lynn E. Harvey

    Lynn E. Harvey gave props (2 Dec 2014):

    Great essay!

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