Friday, July 22, 2011

Graffiti–Art, Destructive, or Just an Interesting Background?

Brooklyn Graffiti-3

Graffiti is a topic for which I have mixed feelings.  On one hand, I have seen beautiful and creative artwork that is well composed and sometimes even well placed.  On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of less artful graffiti that is improperly placed.  These are the extremes, and from my experience, there is plenty of room between these two points.

Another Dance Move

So lets take this idea a little further.  The following graphic presents a simplified model for classifying graffiti based on the location appropriateness combined with the creative or artistic merits of the graffiti.

Creativity Cool, but why here? Wow!
Go Back to School Practice at home
Location Appropriate

Based on this model, the pinnacle of graffiti is a highly creative, composed, and artfully executed work placed in an appropriate place.  As with any piece of art, each of these elements are highly subjective and are bound to be viewed differently from person to person.  Much in the same way, you might judge my photography with appreciation, or you may find it lacking in any number of characteristics.

H Street Graffiti-2-2

Of course, like photography we could make this much more elaborate by judging the materials used, the technical execution, the appropriate use of color, symbolism, composition, and so on.  But honestly, when you are walking down the street, you probably judge graffiti in a more simplified manner – much like the matrix I have proposed.  I will also allow that many people find graffiti as destructive and not worthy of any meritorious assessment.  This view is one held by those who believe graffiti is nothing more than an emblem of urban blight, misguided youth, or gangs marking their territory – another symbol of urban decay.

Graffiti Alley

Lets change gear to graffiti and photography.  With respect to photography, graffiti can be an interesting backdrop.  You have undoubtedly seen glamor or fashion photography featuring a beautiful model in a grungy location with graffiti in the background.  This has little to do with the proposed evaluation matrix, but it speaks to the use of graffiti to set a mood or an aesthetic for the subject of the photograph.

The Human blur

For example, the context provided for the skateboarders in the photographs in this post make these shots more interesting than what I may have found at some squeaky clean suburban skate park.  The graffiti provides a context that is complimentary vs. the contrast of a slinky model in a red dress.

Wishing He Was Older

In summary, I have now planted a seed in your mind – the next time you walk down a street and see some graffiti, I dare you to not judge it with respect to creativity and location appropriateness.  Along the way, I hope I have planted a seed with respect to your photography.  Find some interesting graffiti – become an amateur urban archeologist - and use it in your composition.  It can be a valuable and free backdrop.

Land it

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


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