City Walls

It happened innocently enough, I was walking with my camera down an alley on Music Row in Nashville, when I spied a fading image on an electrical box with a text overlay.  The image long forgotten by whoever posted it there was marked by years of weather eroding the surface. A curious collaboration of unintended consequences created a collage and it was just waiting for me to notice the beauty of it, the magic of this juxtaposition.  

That was 2007, and since then I have walked the streets of cities in 15 states in search of this type of image. By car, I have driven the entire southern half of the country from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific coast. By plane, I have ventured to larger cities on the east coast. Travelling, walking unknown paths, talking to strangers, staying with friends and in cheap motels, visiting museums to look at art - all of this becomes part of the quest to find images. The images in this exhibition were all shot during a one-month stay in New York City in June 2014.

Spurred on by the success of Basquiat, Bansky, and Fairey, a fugitive art style now flourishes in most urban areas. I enjoy the challenge of searching a new city for the area of town where this culture exists. As a photographer, my aim is not to document this work, but to engage with it and find beauty in the random interactions between the city, people, weather, and time.

There is a tradition of recording the arbitrary marks on city walls, which includes work by such notable photographers as Brassai, Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, and Aaron Siskind. Urban areas are in a constant state of flux and each generation's mark making is unique to their age. In this body of work, I am concerned with photographing the results of chance encounters between posting, tagging, painting, taping, and gluing on city walls and the eventual decay of this activity - and with rendering the temporary permanent.

This is an on-going body of work and in the past 10 years, I have shot over 5000 photographs related to this project. The images are full-frame with no manipulation except to dodge, burn, and adjust color and contrast in Photoshop. I shoot with a miniature hand-held camera and a macro lens, focusing close on small fragments of the world sometimes no more than 2 inches in scale. The printed photographs are small fragments of the world that are greatly magnified, and for me reveal a visual alchemy.

 

Photo Credit: Rene' West, Silhouette of a Girl (Athens and Nashville) from the series "City Walls" © 2011