Over the past year or so, I’ve fallen in love with street art. Unlike the white-washed, pristine feel of Nice, the twisting alleyways of Marseille, Lyon and Paris were covered with neon tags, stenciled social commentary and gorgeous murals. I remember wandering those cities with my camera, excited because I never knew what would lie around the next corner. The promise of stumbling across something beautiful or thought-provoking–something that I wouldn’t see unless I was looking– inspired me to truly explore the city–the safer touristy neighborhoods along with those that I deemed more “interesting.”
Melbourne’s reputation as a city that actively supported street art was one of the things that drew me to it. I haven’t been disappointed: the famous CBD graffiti alleyways are my favorite detours day or night, and there are more than enough spray-painted and stenciled bits sprinkled through the suburbs to keep my eyes peeled.
The most recent controversy in Melbourne is over a graffiti website being preserved for social and cultural value by the National Library. I think it’s an extraordinarily forward-thinking move by the National Library. However, many are quick to cite the $13.5 million that the city spends on local graffiti removal and prevention programs each year–and aren’t too happy with the inclusion of site, which, admittedly does teach how to tag a city train and recommends where to buy paint.
While I do think there is a significant difference between street art and graffiti tagging, the line between the two is very blurry. Street art is exactly that: a piece of art in a public space, an expression of talent or a bit of social commentary. Sometimes it’s condoned by the cities, sometimes it’s not. There are some very artistic forms of tagging, but simply scrawling a signature or a gang sign on a wall isn’t contributing to the beauty of the city. Is a gorgeous mural on a wall without the proper permits OK? Is a vivid and vibrant example of tagging over another mural not OK? It’s a controversial question that there are no hard and fast answers to, an issue that often divides generations and socioeconomic groups.
Street art is easily my favorite thing to photograph, simply because it’s so alive. Unlike a stagnant painting in a museum, it’s something that is constantly changing: rarely will you be able to come back to a graffiti alleyway in Melbourne in a few weeks’ time and find it unchanged. An awesome piece of art may have been ruined by tagging, or it may have been replaced with another impressive piece.
Just as I don’t believe in getting rid of it, I don’t believe in preserving street art either. The city of Melbourne came under a lot of flak for painting over a Banksy piece–but to me, that’s a risk that every street artist runs.
What do you think of graffiti works in a city? Pieces of street art or simply vandalism?
For a bit of inspiration, some of my favorite pieces (and posts) of street art: