I love graffiti, though I am not a writer. Writers inflict extraordinary beauty into our lives; they wake us up and make us look. They ask the uncomfortable question, "What's important to you?" A wall is power.
I discovered the power of walls to influence perceptions when I lived in Belfast, Ireland, in the early 1990s . Gable walls in working-class Republican areas became billboards advertising the politics of change and the burgeoning identity of a vibrant community.
In Belfast I met a muralist and former political prisoner Gerry Kelly, who marshaled cast-off cans of every kind of paint, the help of neighborhood kids, a slide projector, and the dark of night to transform walls into works of art. Efforts like Kelly's played a role in transforming that society.
A wall is power. Photos of Kelly's murals became part of my 1993 photo exhibition, Scairt Amach: Shout Out, Irish Republican Prisoners' Art, which explored the role of the arts in prisons in transforming the political identity of Republicans.
Kelly's murals kicked off another idea, and Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) Art Department Chair Abe Echevarria and I presented The Writing on the Wall to the university's honors program. We explored graffiti as communication I spent a lot of time at the Bethel, Connecticut, legal wall that year photographing the pieces that appeared like secret gifts every few days.
Following 9/11, Abe and I came together again to look at the graffiti-like nature of the memorabilia on the fence around St. Paul's Chapel near ground zero in New York City. Dr. John Briggs of WCSU met us there and offered his thoughts on this outpouring of love and pain. (Here are a few clips about this project.)
At the same time, we met with graffiti writers and police in the Greater Danbury, Connecticut, area, about this art form. Next, graffiti came inside on the canvases at WCSU as writers met with artist Clark Wiegman to discuss public art. Later that year, Dr. Briggs provided me with images of a graffiti piece he came across in Provence, France.
Before 2003 was out, we were out of money, and the project sat on the shelf until 2006, when I was able to transfer the mini DVs to a digital format. YouTube breathed life into the project by giving the videos a place to live and be seen. In the spring, I took a ride to Brooklyn, NY, and saw the many memorials to dead friends and 9/11.
Since then, I've been wandering around Connecticut with my camera and photographing every mark on eh wall that I see. Strange Attractions [check out my book] is largely set in Connecticut. I hope you see yourself in some part of this story that winds around the universal desire to name and know the sacred.