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HomeContentsThemes > Graffiti


305.01   Introduction to graffiti
305.02   Egypt: Wall art, bas-relief, hieroglyphics and graffiti
305.03   Brassai: Graffiti
Conceptual photography and graffiti
305.04   John Divola: Vanadalism and Zuma
305.05   Alexandre Orion: Metabiotica
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. 
Status: Collect > Document > Analyse > Improve
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 >  Egypt: Wall art, bas-relief, hieroglyphics and graffiti 
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Slideshow (Be patient as this has 25 slides to load.) 
In the 9th and 10th centuries Arab historians attempted to interpret hieroglyphic symbols and polymath Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680)[7] connected them, correctly it was later proved, with Coptic in his book Lingua aegyptiaca restituta (1643). In 1799 the Rosetta Stone[8] was discovered with three versions of the same text, hieroglyphic, demotic and a Greek translation, provided a key and several scholars, especially Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832)[9], succeeded in the 1820s.[10]  
The Rosetta Stone - copied from an 1846 daguerreotype 
The interest in Egyptology and the quest for further inscriptions meant that archaeologists needed to spend considerable time and effort in copying hieroglyphics. By the 1840s and 1850s they were using photography to reduce the labour involved and to increase accuracy. There is a surviving paper negative by Félix Teynard[11] from 1851-1852 showing Egyptian art and associated hieroglyphics.[12]  
Félix Teynard: [Egyptian art and associated hieroglyphics] (1851-1852) 
Towards the end on the 19th century there are accounts by archaeologists including W.M. Flinders Petrie[13] and James Henry Breasted[14] of using photography in confined and dark conditions to document hieroglyphics and wall paintings. During some of Breasted's expeditions blueprints were made from the photographs of inscriptions which could be checked on-site with the originals. 
305.03   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.[15] In December 1934 the Surrealist magazine Minotaur published his article "Du mur des cavernes au mur d'usine" (From Cave Wall to Factory Wall)[16] 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".[17]
Brassaï explored the history of graffiti from its origins in the cave paintings of Altamira[18], 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[19] - graffiti was seen as a visible connection to deeper levels of the mind. 
Conceptual photography and graffiti 
305.04   Experimental and manipulated photography >  John Divola: Vanadalism and Zuma 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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John Divola: Vandalism 
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John Divola: Zuma 
305.05   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Alexandre Orion: Metabiotica 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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Alexandre Orion was born in the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is a photographer and artist, having graduated in Visual Arts. He has been working with graffiti and heavily involved in urban intervention since 1995. As a self-taught photographer, he became involved in the theory and practice of photography in 2001. Recently he has been looking at images composed by using both painting and photography.[20] 

  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 Athanasius Kircher at Stanford
    (Accessed: 29 December 2014) 
  8. Λ In 1846 a daguerreotype of the Rosetta Stone was taken.
    William Thomas Brande and Alfred Swaine Taylor Chemistry Second American Edition (Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea, 1867), Chapter XXXIX "Photography and its Applications", p.507.
    Owing to the highly polished surface of the metal, the daguerreotype is admirably adapted to bring out the minutest details of objects. In 1846 we obtained by this process a copy of the 10,000 letters of the Greek inscription on the Rosetta stone of the British Museum, within the space of two square inches. The drawing is still preserved, and the Greek letters are easily legible by the aid of a lens. The process, however, has these disadvantages: the film is so thin that the polish of the silver prevents the image from being clearly seen in all lights; and, as with all silver-surfaces, the plate is exposed to tarnishing by sulphuration. These drawings, therefore, can only be preserved by completely preventing the access of air. The film of sulphide of silver, which after a time obscures the drawing, may, however, be removed by washing the plate with a weak solution of cyanide of potassium.
  9. Λ Daniel Meyerson, 2005, The Linguist and the Emperor: Napoleon and Champollion's Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone, (Random House Trade)
    Jean-François Champollion, 1824, Précis du système hiéroglyphique des anciens Égyptiens, ou Recherches sur les éléments premiers de cette écriture sacrée, sur leurs diverses combinaisons, et sur les rapports de ce système avec les autres méthodes graphiques égyptienne, (Paris: Imprimerie royale) 
  10. Λ Lesley & Roy Adkins, 2000, The Keys of Egypt: The Obsession to Decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphs, (HarperCollins Publishers) 
  11. Λ Félix Teynard, 1853, Égypte et Nubie, sites et monuments les plus intéressants pour l'étude de l'art et de l'histoire, (Paris: Adolphe Goupil); Kathleen Stewart Howe & Hans P. Kraus (ed.), 1992, Felix Teynard: Calotypes of Egypt - A Catalogue Raisonne, (New York: Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Inc.) 
  12. Λ This paper negative by Félix Teynard was included in the La Galerie de Chartres auction 25 May 2013. Current whereabouts are unknown. 
  13. Λ W.M. Flinders Petrie, 1893, Ten Years Digging in Egypt 1881-1891, (London: Religious Tract Society), Second edition, pp. 78-79
    Petrie also sold copies of his archaeological photographs to other scholars and institutions - Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, 1883, The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, (Field & Tuer), p. xiv 
  14. Λ Charles Breasted, (1977), Pioneer to the Past: The Story of James Henry Breasted, Archaeologist (University of Chicago Press).
    For his expeditions - James Henry Breasted, "The 1905–07 Breasted Expeditions to Egypt and the Sudan - First Season - Field Diary" (The Oriental Institute - University of Chicago) Almost 1,200 photographs were taken from these expedition seasons and they are at The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. 
  15. Λ Book cover for Ludvik Soucek, 1962, Brassai, (Prague: S.N.K.L.U.); Brassaï, 2002, Graffiti, (Flammarion) 
  16. Λ Brassaï, December 1934, "Du mur des cavernes au mur d'usine", Minotaure, no. 3-4 
  17. Λ Quoted in - Mary Ann Caws (ed.), 2011, Surrealism, (Phaidon), pp. 68-69 
  18. 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) 
  19. 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) 
  20. Λ I'm indebted to the Foley Gallery, New York, for providing these examples and the accompanying text.


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 
Refreshed: 23 January 2015, 00:49
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