I bought a Canon point-and-shoot in 2004 so I could take snapshots of Chicago’s Millennium Park. Two years later I bought a Pentax single-lens reflex so I could photograph graffiti. Here are some of those photos.

This needs to be updated. Later. (7.14.2014)

Still needs to be updated, but I've tagged posts with some reasonable  amount of prose about graffiti with "graffiti essay." (9.14.2014)


During the late summer of 2006 I worked my way through the 26 episodes of Samurai Champloo, an anime series set, more or less, in medieval Japan. I say more or less because there were modern stylistic elements in the story, a pair of Armani glasses, hip-hop style cut offs, not to mention all the hip hop on the sound track. Nor was the story, which told of a journey undertaken over several months, firmly anchored in a specific time-period of medieval Japan.

But this isn't about Samurai Champloo, it's about graffiti. I mention Samurai Champloo, however, because on episode centered on a feud between two brothers, and they fought their battle, not with swords, nor with judo, with with graffiti, modern 20th-century graffiti way back when in this hip-hop inflected medieval Japan.

That one episode put graffiti firmly on my radar screen. I knew about graffiti, of course. I could see tags here and there in my neighborhood in Jersey City. And their was a nice production within 50 yards of my apartment building. Beyond that, I remember the graffiti on the subway cars in New York City back in the 1980s. So, I knew this stuff existed. Samurai Champloo told me that hip young Japanese were interested in it. That implied that graffiti was world-wide, which I hadn't known.

And so I became curious about the graffiti in my neighborhood. I began to look around and, bingo! it was all over the place, hidden from sight. And so I set about documenting the graffiti within walking distance of my apartment. I took notes on what I saw, and, of course, photographs, many photographs. For the first time in my life, I was engaged in fieldwork.

I reported on that work in The Valve. This is a list of those posts.

My first post on graffiti. When I wrote this, I didn't even know it was all about the name. The triceratops was painted on the stanchion of a railroad bridge, one hidden from public view. It was 18 feet wide and 7 feet high. And green, and orange. I'd never seen anything like it. I was stunned. (It no longer exists.) I differentiate between tags, throw-ups, and pieces (standard terms of art).

I argue that graffiti, music grooves, and cartoons (manga and anime especially) constitute three expressive vehicles of an emerging international youth culture. Each exists all over the world, and each is proliferating, along similar, but not identical lines.

More examples from my local travels.

A graffiti writer from Brooklyn asked about one of my photographs (he'd seen it on Flickr). I offered to show him where I'd been. So one Sunday he showed up with his girlfriend, cans of paint, and a camera and we went down into the Erie Cut, a mile-long trench in the middle of Jersey City, that no one knows about except for homeless people, preservationists, and graffiti writers. We came back through the Bergen Tunnel, a railroad tunnel dating back to the 19th century. (Posted at WAAGNFNP.)

How I Became Interested in Graffiti || Reposted at New Savanna
I was walking around my neighborhood in Jersey City, looking for things to, well, look at (and photograph). And I saw stuff, tags here and there (including on street signs), discarded dolls and stuffed animals, a homestead for the homeless, and graffiti. So I started taking pictures. (Originally posted at  the now-defunct WAAGNFNP.)

Informal analysis of five different pieces, from simple to complex. Two by Ceaze, one by Raels (writing Remix), one by Hemlock, and one I can't identify.

I examine three pieces by Gaser, one in simple block letters, and two in more "wild" styles, and one by a writer one of my commenters (fear31) suggest might be Abs.

I analyze several pieces by Ceaze, and contrast them with a Themo (which has an X form) and a one by an unidentified writer.

In which I argue, by concentrating on The Name, that graffiti writers are using a pictorial space that is different from any previous space in Western art.

The following three posts represent my first major statement on graffiti.

How I became interested in graffs, a bit about my neighborhood and railroads, and how graff culture is like the nation-forming artistic circles of pre-modern Japanese and why that's important.

A little about aesthetics, and why graffs will become the foundation of a world-wide visual culture in this centure.

This is a guide to my graffiti photos, some notes about the different sites, and kinds, and other things.

Pictures of a single surface taken over a period of something over a year. The earlist photos document a war between one Somer and some other writers. The more recent photos show skateboard obstacles built by some local sk8ers.

Pieces and a few tags by Raels and Sonet.


Conceived in 1997, Millenium Park was officially opened on 16 July 2004. Occupying 24.5 acres in the northwest corner of Chicago’s Grant Park, this new park is a garden on a roof. It was built over an automobile garage and railway lines and cost a half-billion in dollars and likely as much in egos accommodated and backs scratched. Like all gardens, it is set-off from ordinary life, a place of refuge, celebration, play, conversation, or simple rest. Judging by what I saw and heard the two times I was there – Tuesday afternoon, 27 July and Friday noon 29 July, 2004 – Chicago has done well. Children splashed, mothers watched over, lovers held hands, locals bathed in the sunlight, the symphony rehearsed, tourists snapped photos, and photographers steadied their cameras on tripods. I don’t know whether historians will score this as the first grand public space of the Twenty-First Century (in the common Western reckoning of dates). “Grand” is not the right word, as it implies intimidation just barely contained; and that is not the park’s mood. Cross “grand” with “playful” and “inviting” and you come closer to the mark. (37 photos)

Coleridge’s “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” set with photographs taken in my neighborhood in Jersey City, NJ, on the West bank of the Hudson River, across from Lower Manhattan.

Photographs of signs, legal and vandal, in my neighborhood.

Five photographs taken at a construction site where the early morning sun came streaming through a chain-link fence drapped in plastic? paper? cloth? Whatever.

Photoshopped variations on a single paint chip taken from a graffiti wall.

No photographs, but a commentary (with links) on the notion of “the urban pastoral,” a nascent aesthetic movement intend on redeeming the urban through seeing pastoral beauty in it.

One of my favorite photos, taken with the 3-megapixel Canon point-and-shoot. It has a soft, blurry feel that I like. And then there are those spots across the upper right, rain drops on the camera lens. Yes, we are in the world, we shape the world. That doesn’t mean that the world isn’t there, that it isn’t real. That’s just how it is.

Another urban pastoral, bright green algae on the surface of a pond. Dead branches in the pond, a soccer ball, a grocery cart, aerosol can (graffiti nearby). The usual.

Photographs of the historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetary taken in the early Spring when the trees and bushes are not yet green and the grass is trying to decide whether or not it should awaken. Mud, reeds, headstones askew. More austere than picturesque.

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