As we travel I am drawn to taking photographs of graffiti. I believe that graffiti can tell you a lot about a place or perhaps about attitudes of residents and the authorities. It shows how people feel about the place where they live, sometimes showing pride but often displaying disrespect and even contempt. A lot of graffiti is nothing more than visual pollution, downgrading a neighborhood’s environment and reflecting a community in decline. By actions or inaction local authorities can create an environment where it can become malignant and out of control.
Another major use of graffiti is supporting a political movement or a cause and oddly the most common form of this seems to be making use of the stencil. Perhaps that is because it requires less talent or is less expensive than political handbills or maybe it’s just more difficult to remove. While communist, socialist and anarchists used to be the most active users, recently we have come to recognize social causes more and more to be represented in this stencil graffiti. I believe this relates to the adoption by the younger generation of social causes or movements that are amplified through todays social media.
Recently we visited a community working to overcome graffiti in Bamberg, Germany. This is a beautiful town popular as a tourist destination. It features winding cobblestone streets, a picturesque riverfront, a famous cathedral and an unusual smokey beer. Initially we were impressed with the lack of graffiti but after a while we started noticing subtle blotches of paint that didn’t perfectly match the surroundings. It became obvious that locals were actively painting over graffiti as quickly as possible in an effort to maintain the character of their town. It was encouraging to see push back against this pollution.
Another measure about a community as a place can be seen in graffiti that is often described as street art and it can at times actually elevate the areas environment. Often I have thought about where a line should be drawn in prohibiting graffiti while allowing street art and admit I can’t find a clear line. As the old saw goes – I may not know what it is but I know it when I see it.
More thoughts on graffiti HERE.