Graffiti Down Dark Alleys in Europe

The scanning continues and I am still content with the final products I am achieving. The new Photoshop CS5 clearly has a much better algorithm for healing, which really makes a difference as I clean scratches and dust from the scans. Today I am posting one of my favourite discoveries from the trip: graffiti. Manning is a talented artist, and in a random mention of the name Banksy, he alerted me to stencil art and how interesting that could be from an audience’s perspective. It is non- permanent, it requires skill to create a memorable piece and there is a void in the copyright law which creates an interesting catch-22: it is vandalism, so unless the artist is willing to pay the fines for the illegal activity it is impossible to claim copyright.

Manning and I began our search in Berlin, which had some cool work, but for the most part we were not in the right area to find the edgier pieces. It seemed like graffiti eluded us just like everything else did in Berlin. Regardless, I really like this portrait of Manning: I feel like it needs a rescan to try to get a better tone on his skin and this was the first colour negative I scanned with the new software. Why does this work? I like the graffiti, the fact that he is not looking at the camera smiling, and the blue framing contrasts the orange – plus, the number one gives it a neat context of rebirth. The graffiti figure jumps in joy, but it appears to elude Manning – a strong metaphor for where we began the journey.

After seeing so many religious images in Firenze’s Uffizi and Palzzo Pitti, it was refreshing to see work irreverent to Catholicism, such as this Jesus as a clown piece. The look on the figure’s face clearly beckons the phrase “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

The Roman centurion appears to be whistling. I love the geometric designs that give him a zombie-like appearance. The 25 cube in top right corner also figures in an odd way – perhaps it is a signature? As we rambled down other Roman alleyways, we did come across these two rippling paper stencils that are so simple, but due to their decay become more complex and inviting. The odd hand press reminded me of the death hands of the wives burned with their husbands in Jodhpur Fort.

The rich terracotta background against the text of “Big ups to my daddy” just made me laugh, especially when it is probably the dog’s voice being quoted. The helmets and the childlike rotundity of the figures pull these two pieces together in a Barbapapa kind of way.

In Florence, it was often all about the bicycle for me. In this image I caught both a well-worn bicycle and a take on the profile of Piero della Francesco. The vibrant colours of the wall mural contrast and compliment the red and rust of the bicycle.

Finally, we have what may well be my favourite photo thus far…a man drinking in the alleyway on the dirt ground. Taking this with the Hasselblad was not easy, but I locked it onto infinity distance, took a meter reading and crouched low to take the shot. This might not have been possible with the Canon slr, because I would have been too high in my stance. Upon a close inspection his stare is desperate and yet Christ-like in its acceptance of his fate. I am never a big fan of taking pictures of the homeless in the street, but I am also compelled to do so when I feel that I can do it without invading their space. People need to see the drop. People need to be reminded that but for the grace of God we could all be in this space. I know that I have faced points in my own life where this was not too far from becoming reality. While I may now be able to afford boutique hotels and to travel the world, that moment can pass in a flicker and  poverty can return. Like a memento mori, I take these photos of men to remind myself that I am not a God, I am not an angel nor am I safe from suffering.

I am still hoping that my last two rolls in camera contain my favourite graffiti image from just beyond the Colosseum, a decaying Moto-Guzzi motorcycle and a few other shots that I am missing. If they do, then I will have a more complete set of graffiti pieces and transportation for a series. Back to the scans, back to the grind. Oh and apparently my A24 Hasselblad back is misreading the distance between exposures, so that is why I am only getting 20 shots. I fear that I may send the back in for a tune up from David Odess, but given the difficulty in finding 22o film I am just buy some more A12 backs and accept the quirk.


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