Street Art Photography: The Best Records Of Graffiti History
Graffiti is the most short lived art form and often gets lost to time. When graffiti first gained momentum as a subculture the scene wasn’t just artists. It may not have seemed that way at the time but the photographers in the scene who captured the culture have been an important part of graffiti’s legacy. Over the years a few photographers have made a name for being preserving some of the biggest parts of street art history. Here’s our guide to street art photography through the people who made it what it is.
Nobody has a monopoly on current street art photography like Ian Cox. He’s an omniscient presence on the scene, attending every important event and cataloguing any art worth recording. Whether it’s in Germany, the US or the UK, Cox will be there.
He’s an important figure in the Nuart street art festival in Norway and has helped make Stavanger, where the festival takes place, into a hub for street art.
It’s impossible to mention street art photography without Martha Cooper. In the early years of New York graffiti, Cooper was there to record not only the artwork itself but the context around it. She had a background in Anthropology and took this understanding of recording culture that could be lost to her photography.
The people who were involved in the scene and the world they lived in were heavy features in her work. In particular she’d spent a lot of time recording the work of Dondi, the ‘Graffiti King’ of New York at the time. After five years of photography work she released her first book on Street Art with Henry Chalfant.
Most of her work is in street art photography as well as hip hop and breaking culture. Her photography didn’t stop there, however. She was a photojournalist first and has had a long career outside of her work in street art.
If Martha Cooper is a photojournalist who came into the world of street art, Henry Chalfant is a street art fanatic who picked up a camera. Working between photography and film, Chalfant has received huge critical acclaim for his documentary work. His work has mostly remained in the same territory throughout his career, covering hip hop and street art culture. Today he remains one of the most important early street art historians and still holds a lot of influence over the scene.
It’s pretty common in street art for the identity of an artist to go unknown. Not so much with street art photography. JR crosses over between street art and photography while remaining a mystery. Most of his work revolves around taking photographs of people which he then converts into huge murals of his subjects.
It’s a lot easier to record street art today than it was in the early days. The focus of street art photography seeing a shift should be expected. JR is at the front of that movement. The photography aspect isn’t something that comes in after the work is already done, it’s an aspect that’s there from the beginning.
Fakso’s work is some of the furthest away from the traditional work of street art photographers like Cooper and Chalfant. Rather than covering the art itself, He focuses on the lead up to the creation of a piece. The preparation of paint, finding a location and the adrenaline of sneaking in to work on a piece. His work barely focuses on artists actually painting pieces, never mind the finished project.
His closest contemporaries are people like Keegan Gibbs, who puts artists in front of his camera. Fakso still stands alone though. The aspect of street art he captures isn’t seen in the works of anyone else. Recording street art is easier than ever and like most artists, there are a lot of street artists willing to build a public profile. Simply photographing street art or focusing on the artists is great but it isn’t unique. Alex Fakso’s work exposes a part of the culture you don’t catch anywhere else.