Lost within a sea of information

As my research for this project has progressed, I’ve realized that within the vast sea of information — photos, videos, books, websites, bizarre YouTube clips, etc — I’m having a difficult time focusing.  Initially, what I though of as a fairly narrow concept has turned into more than I ever imagined possible.

And yet, the tangible detail attached to all of this information is vague, if present at all.  Sifting through photo after photo to find usable, valuable pieces of data is (forgive the tired metaphor) akin to the old needle in a haystack.  Every once in a while I’m able to find an image of subway graffiti with enough information to understand what train line it was on and what year it ran.  But for the most part, this detail is lacking.

Initially, I was thinking that I should pursue a photographer from the 1970s who could begin to share some of these details with me.  But I ran into dead ends.  The only photographer who would get back to me isn’t interested in talking to me!

In a way, however, I think this was fortunate.  Something about this approach didn’t sit well with me.  The old school subway graffiti writers are aging, and many of the original writers have passed away.  But the history of subway graffiti exists within the tales passed from one graffiti writer to another.  An oral history tradition lives within these writers, and to not pursue at least one perspective of this history would really be a shame.

These stories, I believe, may be the best way to capture what I now realize is an imprecise pinpointing and mapping of such a fluid movement.  It seems it is more fitting to map memories, as opposed to details.  The brags and boasts of who was “getting up” all around the city, who were the kings of the subway lines, are the kinds details that reveal the flow of information and the influence of writers upon one another.  This type of content should be at the heart of my mapping.

And fortunately, I’ve found one of the old school, original graffiti writers — and newly-published author of a graffiti book — who is willing to be interviewed.  I’ve also found surprising inspiration from a website that contains numerous text interviews of former graffiti writers sharing their experiences from the 1970s and 1980s.  Hopefully within this, my focus has finally narrowed and my argument can solidify.


    1. Yes, thank you! I saw his blog post and it’s a really fascinating…and complex…project. The idea of mapping memories, or conceived urban space, also inspired me to dig around for something to explore within my map critique. I found a project here in New York – http://www.cityofmemory.org – that sadly looks as if it was abandoned in 2009. But in a way it begins to capture what I’m hoping to do with our map project.

      By the way, how do I coordinate with the other presenters this week? I don’t remember where to find the list!

  1. I “flipped” through J.SON’s Graffiti 365 book on Amazon and noticed that he describes 11 Spring St as the “ground zero of urban artists around the world.” The City’s data set marks 146 Spring St as the most reported location tagged by graffiti – a bit of a distance from 11 Spring, but still wonder if there’s a connection.

    1. That’s really fascinating. Subjectively this is a famous wall because of its prominent location and the amount of street artists — famous street artists — who have done pieces on it. But the objective data says otherwise…

      Interestingly enough, in my conversations with Jay, he makes a very important distinction between his definition of “graffiti” — which is almost entirely about lettering and abstracting the alphabet — and “street art” — which he says has stolen the styles (or “built upon” depending on who you’re talking to!) of graffiti artists while almost completely removing the lettering element.

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