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Graffiti – Art or Vandalism?

As we travel the world 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 local residents and civil authority. It shows how people feel about the place where they live. At times showing pride but especially in the case of graffiti often displaying disrespect or even contempt. A lot of graffiti is nothing more than visual pollution and vandalism, 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. This is obvious when you travel widely and discover places where graffiti virtually does not exist and others where it has significantly degraded the environment.

As a country, Germany is suffering a particular plague with graffiti but recently we visited a community that seemed to have no graffiti at all, Bamberg, Germany. This is a beautiful and historic town popular as a tourist destination. It features winding cobblestone streets, a picturesque riverfront, a famous cathedral along with 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 soon obvious that locals were actively painting over graffiti as quickly as possible in an effort to maintain the character of their town. After asking around we learned that the city was both arresting the “artists” and fining the building owners if they don’t quickly erase the graffiti.

Another measure about a community as a place can be seen in graffiti that is often described as street art. It can 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 saying goes – I may not know what it is but I know it when I see it.

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