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.