Photographing Graffitti

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by hirere_ngamoki, Aug 24, 2007.

  1. I have an assignment on documentary photography and am doing it on
    graffitti....does anyone know the best way to photograph it?
  2. I'd start with a camera of some sort. Then try to point it at some graffiti...
  3. A polarizing filter will push the colors - if You shoot black&white try some green or orange
    filters. I would try some longtime-exposures with ghosting artists or passants. You could
    even try some kind of multi-exposure or a sequence.
    Please excuse my funny English, Georg.
  4. Watch your exposure. Much graffiti is darker than 18% gray. Use exposure control to avoid overexposure and get rich colors. Check your histogram if digital. Good composition is always in style. Good luck!
  5. You often see the same thing graffitti'd in a few different places in the same vicinity which might make some good shots that relate to each other.
  6. Get the right size please! Sorry about that.
  7. david_henderson


    Its really not terribly difficult, especially if you're shooting from front on. Its flat so you don't need to worry about depth of field; it generally has some sharp lines you can focus on. Its not moving so if shooting digitally you can check the histogram and white balance and retake if necessary and even if you screw up a bit there's always photoshop. About the only things you need to do are to use a fast enough ISO to avoid shadow noise and to frame it right.

    Oh- and one other thing- its been done a million times. If you want to do anything remotely original you're going to need a different approach. You will need to decide whether you want to show the graffiti in the context of where it is, or just the graffiti itself -depending on what you're trying to document. Of course if you wanted to be a little different you could work to win the confidence of some artists who might let you photograph the process of making graffiti- but then thats more difficult than just photographing whats there.
  8. Try to add people or movement to what is a very fixed, flat subject. Also, message grafitti has more interest. [​IMG] [​IMG] Koenji, Tokyo
  9. Add an extra element to add interest. Also, great light cures a lot of sins...
  10. <Of course if you wanted to be a little different you could work to win the confidence of some artists who might let you photograph the process of making graffiti...>

    If you take that route, bring bail money.

    Some outdoor art is done with the permission of the property owner, but most tagging is simply vandalism. Documenting it afer the fact is fine. Joining the crew, however, leaves you open to a charge of aiding and abetting.

    "It was going to happen anyway and I was just taking pictures" is a valid defense, but it's a defense you may have to raise if you're swept up with the vandals. In another context, Heisenberg taught us that you cannot observe an event without affecting it. Responsible journalists have come to realize that his observation can be valid of human activity, too.

    I accept that some people are fascinated by graffiti, but here in New York we have spent countless millions of dollars, taxpayer and private, to prevent it, erase it or cover it over. Graffiti was most prevalent when the city was at its economic and social nadir and has become much less common as the city has bounced back.

    Good luck with your documentation of graffiti that already exists. Perhaps your pictures will help people appreciate just how anti-social graffiti really is.

    As an alternative, you might want to document a community's attempts to rid itself of graffiti. Now *that* would be a little different.
  11. Nah, don't listen to what people on this forum say.
    If you're going to photograph graffiti, photograph graffiti and not dogs, bikers, women with handbags, and freakin' "One Way" signs.
    If you're going to photograph graffiti, either show graffiti or show it as a part of the surrounding architectural landscape. I'm sorry, but graffiti has no relationship to puppies, stray cats, and women with handbags.
    If you decide not to show it as a part of a landscape, here is a $64,000 suggestion to you: get a digital camera, photograph all parts of graffiti at 90-degree angles to the wall, correct perspective digitally, and stitch the photos together. Yeah, expensive, but you've got to suffer for your art, don't you? Then hang the print on the same wall as graffiti and watch the rain destroy it.
  12. "I'm sorry, but graffiti has no relationship to puppies, stray cats,..." :)
  13. Before doing it I would look at some work by Aaron Siskind who shot B+W abstract of primarily 2 diminionsal subjects. For Graffitti with people a great example is Bruce Davidson's "Subway"
  14. That's not graffiti<br /><br />
    THIS is graffiti:<br />
    <img src="" />
  15. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I'm not sure if this is graffiti, although the area was so abandoned it wasn't a public works project.
    Hera Loomit Sevilla, Copyright 2005 Jeff Spirer
  16. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    On the other hand, this was definitely graffiti. What this line was doing in Granada escapes me.
    New Mexico Blows, Copyright 2005 Jeff Spirer
  18. if you are shooting film, try velvia.
  19. Wow, what a hippy trippy spin-out guys
  20. Maybe you need to fall in love
    Or just find something that sympathises with you...
  21. Could be your outlook!
    Don't fall for drab auto-flagellation
  22. I think the best advice was the one by Bob Bernard, given first: Get a camera and shoot some graffiti. The rest of our advice is just confusing and simplistic.

    Or did you have any specific questions on this most simple of assignment?
  23. What you need to do first is to find a theme. Do this: Write a title for your project. A title
    really gets you focused. Next write an abstract of about two or three hundred words about
    your project. Once you have theme firmly in your head you'll have a better feeling for what
    you are shooting and why you are shooting it.

    It is a fact that graffiti has been over-photographed. But that should not be a problem.
    There is always new graffiti and therefore a new angle.
  24. South Boston <p>

    <img src ="">
  25. "I think the best advice was the one by Bob Bernard, given first: Get a camera and shoot some graffiti. The rest of our advice is just confusing and simplistic."

  26. Don't listen to any of this, just start shooting it, get stuff back, look at it and shoot some more. You'll start to get an idea of what you want. It helps if you are where there is lots of it. Just look at your work and see what appeals. Maybe try it in different light. Its your assignment. If it helps, look at what others have done. I don't see a lot of it where I live, but some here do a lot. Some here have web sites.
    Check out Brad's he incorporates a good amount of grafitti in his work. Did you teacher show you slides of others work in the class? Or is this just your self-chosen assignment? Anyways, have fun.

    <img src="">
  27. Also, if you haven't, just google graffiti and look at the images there's millions, or......don't look at anything but what you're doing so you get completely your own take..that's another way. Just start, review, refine.
  28. Brad's reching hand and his others, Jeff, Eugene, Robert J, James B, Bill o' B all cool stuff. I do love the look of the stuff. Not sure I want it on my car,but it is amazing stuff.
  29. sorry Clive, like yours too, in fact pretty much all of this stuff is fascinating.
  30. Jonathon said ""It was going to happen anyway and I was just taking pictures" is a valid defense, but it's a defense you may have to raise if you're swept up with the vandals."

    There is another way to deal with this - you photograph lots of grafitti, lots of people doing it, you get caught with them by the police, yo go to the station and you explain you were "gathering evidence" and pick up a nice big reward to buy another lens!
  31. And then you collect a brick in the head for being a rat. I'd be cautious when trying to photograph people engaged in any illegal activity.
  32. Mike, I agree! Photographing any illegal activity really is dodgy especially now we have kids who are aspiring to be "gansta" and running around with guns. It's easy to imagine photographing a group of teenagers having a smoke and a laugh without realising they're passing drugs, then one of them pulling out a handgun. And also, if you knowingly photograph illegal activity (say grafitti taking place) are you now then witholding evidence? Sometimes it's best not to know who did something and to just appreciate (or not) the grafitti for what it is.

    Jonathon Davis's idea of photographing grafitti being undone is interesting. You should be able to find out through the local authority details of where and when clean-up efforts will be taking place. You could document the clean-up from start to finish, and then a few hours later you should be able to photograph more grafitti that has taken its place.

    Finally, keep an eye out in obscure places for grafitti. Sometimes it is out of sight of the casual observer, but this almost hidden grafitti is often really simple with a good message. Like this...
  33. What happened to the photographer who did the Kansas City series of drugees, I'm sorry forget his name. But that was tough phography and I don't think he ever got arrested. Of course if the cops had raided the place, then who knows.

    As for graffitti, its so prevalent in a lot cities, that you don't have to do anything special to find it. Like in San Francisco, half the trucks, any construction site, many walls, have been decorated.
    No need to catch em doing it, unless you want to.

    <img src="">

    <img src="">
  34. actually a great collection of images. A good mini-book.
  35. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    What happened to the photographer who did the Kansas City series of drugees, I'm sorry forget his name.
    Larry Clark. I don't think he was an outsider though, I think they were mostly his friends. However, some great photographs have come from working with people in criminal activity. If the photographers didn't work with them, nobody would know about what it was like, and that would be really sad for photography. Take a look at the work of Joseph Rodriguez, for example.
    Me, I would tag along (haha) if I had the opportunity.
  36. Just pinched this from PAvement Magazine
    "-- bio --
    Larry Clark was born in 1943 and grew up in Oklahoma. He nows in live in New York City with his three kids; one 26 and two younger boys, 17 and 13. Fifty-two years of age now and still obsessed with youth, he can purportedly be seen skateboarding with the 14- and 15-year-olds in Washington Square Park or at Brooklyn Banks. He is the one with the graying ponytail and the custom skateboard with a picture of a young girl, naked, her rear in the air, her genitals exposed...

    text plagiarized from more sources than possible to identify "

    I guess this was written in 1995 as it refers to his date of birth as 1943 and mentions that he is 52! - maybe he's still boarding today!
  37. Thanks Jeff, that was the name I was looking for. But was he sharing their lifestyle (shooting up) too or just there documenting what was becoming of his childhood friends. I got the sense that he wasn't exactly on the same life path they were. I just remember that was some of the most powerful imagery I have ever seen. Hard to look at but so revealing.
  38. Addicts are going to shoot up whether you are there to see it or not. Graffiti writers, on the other hand, are attention-seekers and may behave differently simply because they are being observed. Thus the issue arises, even when you think you are only documenting, are you in some sense participating?

    Ever see pictures of a demonstration in a non-English-speaking country in which the placards are in English? Would the placards have been the same if there hadn't been US/UK cameras there to "document" the demo? Would the demo have happened at all?

    The OP said he has been given a documentary photography assignment. He has received a lot of good advice on the photographic aspect, as well as many excellent exacmples. My point, however, deals with the "documentary" aspect; specifically, on the photographer's responsibility to be aware that the act of photography may affect the subject of the documentation.

    I'll never forget an experience I had about twenty years ago. I saw two kids about 14 years of age come into the old Scribner's bookstore on Fifth Avenue and ask for a picture book on graffiti that had just been published. These were street kids; they looked and acted as if they'd never been a bookstore before in their lives. While getting them into a bookstore for any reason at all was probably a good thing, I couldn't help but suspect that the documentation of their (or their idols') handiwork would only lead to more graffiti in the future.
  39. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Thus the issue arises, even when you think you are only documenting, are you in some sense participating?
    The gang photographer I mentioned has been around some serious crime. If he walked away when things started happening, he wouldn't have the trust. He has seen stuff much more serious than graffiti.
    A different subject - there is graffiti in Pompeii that dates back to when the city was alive. I couldn't find it, but I know it is still on some of the building. It may not be accessible with the way it's set up now.
  40. Graffiti rules.
  41. Rules of Graffiti - interesting article on what qualifies graffiti as art..
  42. Graffiti is best enjoyed drunk...
  43. Thanks for all the amazing feedbak and to Rob Bernhard thats good advice....that would be how I capture graffiti, I just needed a little advice :D
  44. check out BANKSY graffitti art. WOOOOORD!!!!
  45. Hirere, I would go in close, then closer, then even closer, after first getting an
    idea of what the image possibilities are from the overall graffitti.

    The graffitti may not be art, but you can possibly even create an abstract art
    from its elements. So get close.
  46. Point a camera at it and click the shutter, perhaps? I do not understand the question. Is there something specific you want to know?

  47. There was a few things I wanted to know, but it's ok now. After reading through a few things I kinda incorporated it all into what I did and got a few good shots of graffiti, nothing great of course, but my teacher might like em.
  48. Oh, and photograph grafitti that you actually like/love. When you just document whatever there is, you tend to try less hard (IMHO) than if you actually want to document something that tickles your optical nerve.

    As for techniques, this thread has said it all (pretty much, I think).

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