Bay Area Graffiti photographer Chris Brennan captures the layers of conversation that go on between graffiti artists and buffers to maintain the "unaesthetic" look of the streets.
Tucked in between taquerias on San Francisco Mission District's 24th street, I meet up with Chris Brennan, a well known and connected photographer in the Bay Area. His past work has graced local magazines and newspapers, but most important to the FatCap community, has included a book on the region's well known street art and graffiti scene. But we're not here to talk about the book. Most recently, Chris has put together an exhibit called No Art for 111 Minna, a unique mixed-use space centered around art exhibitions and "whatever else happens to be the celebration or occasion of the day or night".
No Art is made up of a series of photographs Brennan has been collecting of buffed artwork over the years, challenging the observer to look at buffing as art in itself, capturing a moment in time: The moment in time that the graffiti behind the current layer existed, and the now, in which the opaque paint takes over. It's akin to a battle between crews at a different level, a call-and-response, and ultimately, a conversation on how to use public and semi public space, he explains.
As you can see from the photographs, the conversations are not so deadening. The city evolves into a patchwork of colors, so subtle "normal people" might not notice. But to graffiti writers, the layers on the walls are discernible; they know what was on that wall before the buff, and maybe what work lies infinite layers beneath. The conversation, taking place over time, has provided for "memories built upon the streets." And buff marks are a daily reality of that conversation, Brennan says, adding that aesthetic is ever moving. Of the scores of photographers capturing Bay Area graffiti, no one will ever snap the same picture.
The photographs inevitably lead to discussing the future of graffiti and the potential for a colorful San Francisco again, as the current mayor has taken a hard position against graffiti since his early years in office. Brennan's diplomatic demeanor ceases to exist; he takes firm opinions on the definition of graffiti and the future trajectory of the community. He believes, in this conversation between the two sides, that, in the end, graffiti will never be legal, and we would not want it to be. If graffiti is legal, the essential beauty and skill of the art is taken away. At its essence, graffiti is about "exploring and creating something in an urban environment", and, as someone who understands the art, when he sees a piece in a particularly hard to reach area of the city, it's like "Indiana Jones in your head" trying to figure out how the writer, tagger or artist was able to actually reach those heights and corners to place their pieces.
As for Chris Brennan, he is committed to being a good documentarian and a good journalist for the community. What's next? He's working with the TDK crew to document Mike Dream's life and work, and welcomes anyone from the FatCap community to send him photos and stories that they can share.
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