Toronto Star: Gardiner Expressway, near Dunn Avenue, March 25, 2020, p2
“GRAFFITI IS ONE OF THE FEW TOOLS you have if you have almost nothing,” writes the street artist Banksy. In the alleyways of the poor, kids spray-paint against injustice or to assert their spirit or maybe just to get a laugh where laughs are scarce. in trenches, soldiers mark the walls to protest impermanence. And in a pandemic, too, it seems, those with almost nothing, who now have still less, make their pleas where they can.
Photographing graffiti has a long history in photography. It brings the usually anonymous wall markings to a broader consciousness, serving as “an equivalent of oral history – retrieving scraps of ordinary lives”. (Max Kozloff, in The Restless Decade – John Guttmann’s Photographs of the Thirties) These days, not all graffiti artists are completely anonymous – we’ve come a long way from Kilroy to Banksy! There are fans who could tell who made the stencil graffiti seen in my image of the laughing grenade, and probably the sprayed tag partly layered with it. Same with the digits in 10.
So – what am I doing here? Why take a picture of someone else’s art? Some will see it as appropriation – I’m not part of the graffiti culture, and understand very little of it. I prefer to think of it as sampling, more common now in music than in visual art. That’s why I framed it as I did – having the grenade and the tag both bursting out of the frame, showing only the top of the 10. I’ve made the images my own, and suggest the uncontrolled nature of the originals.