I Collect Graffiti and Street Art

When I was first becoming interested in photography at about the age of 15, I happened upon a book of documentary photography. The Family of Man fascinated me.

I was coming to photography from drawing and painting. My earliest career goal was to be an artist. But it was The Family of Man that set me on another path. Here was visual art intended to communicate across time and cultures. Here was visual art meant to preserve what it means to be human.

The book I saw in the 1970s was published to bring the original MoMA exhibition to a wider audience. It was not a photographic effort such as the documenting of the Great Depression by the Farm Security Administration. The effect one me, however, was defined by the concept of “project.” I’d go so far as to claim this one concept, and many resulting ideas, has informed every career and creative effort I have made since.

The topic of this post is the documenting of public expressions known as graffiti and street art. Or, rather, “collecting” because while the documenting may be thought of as a project, this is one of the rare occasions when I’ve mentioned it or published anything.

I’m defining street art broadly — more than just paint on a wall. Published here is small sample of the kinds of art I have captured and preserved since the dawn of digital photography (for me).

1) A chiseled portrait by Alexandre Farto, Aveiro, Portugal, 2023. 2) Political graffiti, Springfield, Missouri, 2010. 3) An ephemeral spreading of joy during the darkest days of early COVID, Springfield, Missouri, 2020. 4) Reverence for famous Portuguese singer Amália Rodrigues, Lisbon, 2015. 5) Political satire (?) found in a small town along the Trans-Siberian Rail Road, 2016. 6) Political graffiti, Honk Kong, 2012. 

I have not approached this project in a systematic way (non-sequitur?). By that I suppose I mean that I do not have an agenda to document particular types of public expression in particular places and to publish or to display the resulting images in particular ways except as I might on occasion do here on the interwebs. Instead, I document/collect what I discover as a normal activity of my travels.

What does it all mean? I suppose that would require some kind of curation to create — in a way similar to Edward Steichen’s curation of The Family of Man from many photographs by many photographers who had many agendas.

One thing I know: Much of what I have photographed no longer exists. That’s the nature of street art (even Banksy). Find it now. Capture it now. Figure out what it all means later.

Andy W Banksy Small

That’s me on a day of Banksy hunting in London circa 2018.

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