I’ve been documenting L.A. graffiti since 1990. I saw it starting with the KSN yard at Sunset and Fairfax and the Pan Pacific Auditorium in 1984, and thought it was interesting, but since my previous photography didn’t involve documentary, I didn’t think to catch it until I came down the hill by Belmont Tunnel just after the second Slick/Hex battle. I believe it was when I ran into Omega (touching up Hex’s piece) that she told me about Sanborn yard (where I met writers such as a very young Size, Mek, and Perk who introduced me to Skate and Delo), and then writers I met there and at Belmont (once they had seen me around enough to trust me) would tell me about other sites and so on.
My primary concern has always been simply that I felt a record should be kept of the interesting work. I didn’t think about publishing for a long time, but as I became familiar with the books out on graffiti, felt that there were aspects that deserved additional attention. Initial attempts to find an interested publisher some years ago were not successful, but in 2005, Jim Prigoff noticed how graffiti and so-called street art had become a welcome subject for publishers, and that the book Graffiti World had sold wildly beyond the expectations of its American distributor (H. N. Abrams). He urged me to get in touch with Abrams and that led to the present book. Thank you, Jim!
Once it seemed the book deal was actually going through, I had an excuse to finally sit down with many writers and ask questions that I’d always wondered about. What was so interesting to me were the subjects that came out of the interviews that I hadn’t thought about to begin with, from learning about caps to crew standards.
As it turned out, this is the arc of the L.A. story presented in the book:
- Pre-hip hop, New York influence and early media exposure, early developments in key areas of the city
- Technical and aesthetic Issues (early technical issues, paint, tips and color, size and scale, sketches, piecing devices/vocabulary, flipping the script/legibility, can control, fill, dimensionality, representational elements, content), the issue of style, L.A. inspirations, developing a personal style, and then pushing your own envelope. Then from graff as personal expression to graff as social expression, technical controversies within the graffiti community, technique and aesthetics now
- The social element, comments on gangs, getting in (to a crew), crew dynamics (competition, collaboration, mentors: kicking down knowledge, crew standards), social elements now, career arc
- Ethical Issues, degrees of illegality and vandalism, locations, views on mural bombing
- Legal issues, penal codes, graffiti abatement authority, city regulation
- Aboveground, education, gallery art
The deadline the publisher gave me was grueling (some published friends called it crazily unreasonable), but I was able to get many important writers’ voices into the book through interviews even if a few important ones slipped past. I tried to get at least one representative voice from all the major crews in, and most of the writers gave much appreciated cooperation. I tried to make sure that as many writers as possible that have had a strong contributing presence in L.A. would have at least one photograph of their work repped. Because of those constant intensive deadlines with picture choices, reviewing their edits, reworking the writing and so on and getting the layout and captions right, it was stressful, but at the same time an exciting challenge to try and “come correct” in representing the scene in a way that would be appreciated by L.A. writers first, world-wide writers second, and highly educational to those outside the scene that would like to understand it better. I’m reminded of talking to Panic who told me that though friends looking at a just finished piece of his might really like it, he would still see tons of little flaws that were too late to fix. I feel the same: I’m really proud of the scope, honesty and accuracy of this book even if I would like to fix some details. I look forward to getting feedback when the book comes out.
The back cover of the book is a detail of “Seven Samurai From The Eastside.” To see a cool video of the making of this mural, go to You Tube and search for “213 & The Seven Samurai.”