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HomeContentsThemes > Graffiti


305.01   Introduction to graffiti
305.02   Brassai: Graffiti
Conceptual photography and graffiti
305.03   John Divola: Vanadalism and Zuma
This theme includes example sections and will be revised and added to as we proceed. Suggestions for additions, improvements and the correction of factual errors are always appreciated. 
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305.01   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Introduction to graffiti 
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The graffiti series of Brassaï that were similar to photographs of the 1930's that others were taking - for example the signs that Walker Evans was taking in the USA or the graffiti that Humphrey Spender[1] took for the 'Worktown' project[2] in Great Britain. The Worktown project, dealing with Bolton in Northern England, was an early sociological experiment in 'Mass Observation'[3] where photographs, diaries and questionnaires were used to examine contemporary life in the Britain. Mass Observation project of which it was a part started in 1937 and continued until the early 1950's. Helen Levitt noted for her studies of children playing on the streets and vacant lots of New York[4] also photographed the chalk drawings and graffiti.[5]
A more intriguing example is the intentional art graffiti sprayed in abandoned buildings in Southern California by John Divola[6] for his "Vandalism" series which began in 1973. 
305.02   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Brassai: Graffiti 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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From the early 1930s Brassaï was fascinated in the evolution of graffiti and would return to the same locations in Paris to see how a work was altered.[7] In December 1934 the Surrealist magazine Minotaur published his article "Du mur des cavernes au mur d'usine" (From Cave Wall to Factory Wall)[8] which included examples of his photographs of graffiti. He saw the wall markings not as a degraded art form of the street or a form of play but as a means of "mastering the frenzy of the unconscious".[9]
Brassaï explored the history of graffiti from its origins in the cave paintings of Altamira[10], through the etchings at Pompeii, the graffiti of the French Revolution up to the present day. He was fascinated by the concept of the "primitive", the symbolic and presumed magical power of graffiti. Surrealism was partly based on the liberation of the subconscious and access to dream states[11] - graffiti was seen as a visible connection to deeper levels of the mind. 
Conceptual photography and graffiti 
305.03   Experimental and manipulated photography >  John Divola: Vanadalism and Zuma 
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John Divola: Vandalism 
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John Divola: Zuma 

  1. Λ Humphrey Spender, 1987, “Lensman”: Photographs 1932-52, (London: Chatto & Windus) 
  2. Λ Bolton Worktown: Photography and Archives from the Mass Observation
    (Accessed: 5 May 2014) 
  3. Λ James Hinton, 2013, The Mass Observers: A History, 1937-1949, (Oxford University Press). Book description from Amazon (Accessed: 9 July 2013):
    This is the first full-scale history of Mass-Observation, the independent social research organisation which, between 1937 and 1949, set out to document the attitudes, opinions, and every-day lives of the British people. Through a combination of anthropological fieldwork, opinion surveys, and written testimony solicited from hundreds of volunteers, Mass-Observation created a huge archive of popular life during a tumultuous decade which remains central to British national identity.
    There are other studies by and on Mass Observation including - Charles Madge and Tom Harrisson (eds.), March 1938, First Year’s Work 1937-38 by Mass-Observation, (London: Lindsay Drummond); Tom Jeffery, 1999, Mass-Observation: A Short History, Mass-Observation Archive Occasional Paper no. 10, (Brighton: University of Sussex Library) 
  4. Λ Helen Levitt, 1965, A Way of Seeing, (New York: The Viking Press) [Essay by James Agee]; Helen Levitt, 1989, A Way of Seeing, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press) [3rd edition, with additional photograph.; Helen Levitt, 1987, In the Street: Chalk Drawings and Messages, New York City, 1938–1948, (Duke University Press Books); John Szarkowski & Helen Levitt, 2005, Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt, (powerHouse Books) 
  5. Λ Helen Levitt, 1987, In the Street: Chalk Drawings and Messages, New York City, 1938–1948, (Duke University Press Books) 
  6. Λ John Divola & David Campany, 2006, John Divola: Three Acts: Vandalism, Los Angeles International Airport Noise Abatement Zone (LAX NAZ), Zuma, (Aperture) 
  7. Λ Book cover for Ludvik Soucek, 1962, Brassai, (Prague: S.N.K.L.U.); Brassaï, 2002, Graffiti, (Flammarion) 
  8. Λ Brassaï, December 1934, "Du mur des cavernes au mur d'usine", Minotaure, no. 3-4 
  9. Λ Quoted in - Mary Ann Caws (ed.), 2011, Surrealism, (Phaidon), pp. 68-69 
  10. Λ The discovery of the cave at Altamira in Northern Spain was made public in 1880 and it was only in 1902 that the athenticity of the paintings was agreed.
    Cave of Altamira - Wikipedia
    (Accessed - 18 December 2013) 
  11. Λ The work of Sigmund Freud influenced the understanding of dreams by the Surrealists although the meeting between André Breton and Sigmund Freud did not go well. Freud never gave his support to Surrealism.
    Sigmund Freud, 1900, Die Traumdeutung [The Interpretation of Dreams], (Leipzig and Vienna: Franz Deuticke)


HomeContents > Further research

Readings on, or by, individual photographers 
Brassaï, 1934, December, ‘Du mur des cavernes au mur d'usine‘, Minotaure, no. 3-4 [Δ
Brassaï, 1961, Graffiti, (Paris: Les Éditions du Temps) [Δ
Helen Levitt 
Levitt, Helen, 1987, In the Street: Chalk Drawings and Messages, New York City, 1938–1948, (Duke University Press Books) isbn-10: 0822307715 isbn-13: 978-0822307716 [Δ
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan - 

HomeContentsPhotographers > Photographers worth investigating

Brassaï  (1899-1984) • John Divola  (1949-) • Walker Evans  (1903-1975) • Irving Greines • Helen Levitt  (1913-2009) • Alexandre Orion • Aaron Siskind  (1903-1991)
HomeThemesExperimental and manipulated photography > Graffiti 
A wider gazeRelated topics 

HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > Graffiti

Please submit suggestions for Online Exhibitions that will enhance this theme.
Alan -

ThumbnailAlexandre Orion: Metabiotica 
Title | Lightbox | Checklist
Released (December 17, 2007)
ThumbnailIrving Greines: Urban Wilderness – Chaos Transformed 
Title | Lightbox | Checklist
Released (September 7, 2007) Verve Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe (NM, USA) has an exhibition of this series (Aug 31 - Oct 27, 2007)

HomeVisual indexes > Graffiti

Please submit suggestions for Visual Indexes to enhance this theme.
Alan -

ThumbnailAlexandre Orion: Metabiotica 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailBrassaï: Graffiti 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailJohn Divola: Vandalism 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailJohn Divola: Zuma 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailUnidentified photographer (Third Reich) - Yevgeny Khaldei 
ThumbnailArt: Urban art: Graffiti 
ThumbnailEgypt: Wall art, bas-relief and graffiti 
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