In my latest iteration of my Intro to Platinum/Palladium printing class, I dug up some old negatives I had made, since my student this time was sufficiently skilled with wet darkroom processes and not interested in getting into shooting large format (in my standard group class, we take my Canham 5×7 out around Glen Echo and make a dozen or so negatives for students to work from). This was a print from that session.
It’s a memorial to the transitions on U Street. This is graffiti art that has since been obliterated by gentrification and re-development – the alley where this was has been re-graffiti’d, but with “sanctioned” artwork a bit more sanitized and easier to interpret.
This print is a 5×7 palladium print. The usual chocolate-brown color is missing because I gave this emulsion mix a shot of NA2 contrast agent to give it a bit more snap. The NA2 contains platinum, which is what cools off the image and makes it more neutral. If you’d like to learn how to print this way, contact me through the blog and we can schedule a class, either one-on-one or I can fit you in to an upcoming class at Glen Echo Photoworks.
The Roman subway trains are covered in graffiti in a way reminiscent of the New York City subway trains in the 1970s and 80s. I assume the yards where the trains are parked at night are insecure – that would be the only explanation I can think of for the sheer amount of graffiti.
While my memory of New York City subways in the 1970s is a bit vague, my impression is that the graffiti there was not so much artistic as it was mostly tagging by individuals and/or gangs. Here, as in seemingly all things Italian, there is an underlying artfulness to at least some of it.
And even the text commentary (“Who sleeps not [something] with the fishes”) is relevant to the designs. I don’t know if my misreading of the handwriting is wrong or if the phrase is some Italian/Roman slang phrase that Google Translate can’t figure out. Any readers who understand the expression, please chime in and correct me!
Rome is a city known for many things – fine food, ancient architecture, more churches than you can shake a stick at, and among other things, graffiti. This poor mailbox has been heartily defaced – scribbled on, stickered, and overall abused. Yet it still soldiers on in its duty, collecting the mail. Here is my portrait of the mailbox to elevate it into the pantheon of my Ordinary Objects series:
Something I found fascinating was the degree to which English has penetrated into Italian life. In the big cities, almost everyone speaks it to some degree or other. Signage in museums is in Italian and English – no French, no German, no Spanish, no anything else. Just English and Italian. Even the graffiti is often in English, like the little mushroom to the right of the mailbox here, and some obscenities on a wall outside the Garbatella Metro station (forthcoming in a future post). I don’t know what quite to make of it – while it makes life easier for me as a visitor who is not proficient in Italian (I can fake it ’til I make it based on my fluency in Spanish), I do worry about global homogenization.
The Colosseum is truly one of the marvels of ancient Rome. A building that could seat somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 (the higher number comes from an ancient source – modern estimates are lower) but evacuate them all in just minutes, hosted mock sea battles, and was designed and constructed without the use of decimals or precision measurement systems.
There is an ongoing project to restore and stabilize the outer wall of the Colosseum. To that end, they’ve wrapped parts of the exterior in scaffolding to assist in the work.
Viewed from a different angle, the scaffold takes on the appearance of a modern skyscraper.
I spotted this bit of graffiti on a wall outside the entrance to the Colosseo Metro station.
A simple shot of the Colosseum exterior wall in a section not undergoing stabilization work.
You’ll notice I have no shots of the interior of the Colosseum. I did not make it inside. Traveler’s tip – if you want to see it without booking a tour, you need to buy a timed entry ticket, which you can get from the ticket booth at the entrance to the Forum. Get the ticket from the Forum (it lets you in to both the Forum and the Colosseum) instead of trying to get it directly from the Colosseum. Why? Because the line to get in, EVEN if you have the RomaPass card, is about 2-3 hours long.
There will be lots of touts outside the Colosseum offering tours that will let you skip the line to get inside. Most of these will have the sole value of letting you skip the line – the guides are of varying and often poor quality. You’re better off pre-booking your tour in advance through an agency with online reviews that you can tell how good a program they offer. The advantage of a pre-booked tour is that the tour guides will be able to take you in to parts of the Colosseum you can’t enter if you just go in yourself.
You’ll find public drinking fountains all over Rome. It’s one of the charming features of the city. Unlike fountains in some cities, they run continuously. You can fill a cup or a kettle from the spigot, or if you just want a sip, you can put your finger under the water spout to block it and water will squirt up from a small hole in the top of the pipe so you don’t have to hang upside down to get your water fix.
That’s a try-at-your-own-risk activity though – if the water pressure on the spout you’re blocking is good, it comes out the little hole with quite some velocity – I tried it on this fountain and got a thorough squirting in the face. Given the heat of the day it was a welcome squirt, but not expected.
I don’t know how old the trough under the spigot is, but it appears to be of the late Imperial era. It may have always been a water trough, or it may have been a sarcophagus – it’s the right size for it. But probably only in Rome will you be able to drink your water in a 1700 year old water fountain.
As seen in my neighborhood. Wheat-paste cutouts are becoming a new form of eco-friendly/sustainable/non-destructive graffiti. In this one, Kim Jong Un’s face has taken up residence on the wall of a building near the 9:30 Club.
Just because it’s gone hipster doesn’t mean graffiti has lost its edge for political and social commentary. Kim’s collar proclaims him “Smear Leader”.
Key Bridge is one of the most iconic structures in Washington DC and a major attraction in its own right. It spans the Potomac between Georgetown and Rosslyn, and carries a tremendous volume of traffic between DC and Virginia every day.
The view of the underside is one most people never get, of this or any bridge for that matter.
Key Bridge is chock full of strange hidden nooks, like this service door to something in the infrastructure. Despite being sealed off behind chain-link fencing, people have managed to get in and graffiti it.
The prototypical view of Key Bridge, from the West side. I’m fascinated by how someone managed to get to the bottoms of the piers and graffiti them. You’d have to either have a boat, sail up to the foot of the pier, then climb up 20+ feet from the waterline, or somehow rappel down from the pedestrian deck of the bridge. Not a recipe for success on either front, as I’d imagine you’d be spotted very quickly and arrested.
Here’s a view of the underside where the bridge crosses the C&O Canal.
This is the tower of the old Trolley Barn, which used to house the streetcars that plied DC in the late 19th/early 20th century. Now it is office space on the upper levels. The view is from under Key Bridge, where the on-ramp to the Whitehurst Freeway (really just an elevated bypass to get around the street traffic of Georgetown) splits off of Key Bridge.
I often go on walkabouts on my way home from work with the Rollei in tow. I’m always impressed by the array of graffiti that’s been put up, and how it is becoming an accepted art form, with entire murals done in “graffiti style”. Here are some finds, most of them in a single alley off 14th Street.
I’m particularly taken with this segment of the mural, because of the optical illusion. If you de-focus just a little bit so you lose the texture of the stucco, it really looks like someone has made a GIANT tag on top of an actual apartment building.
I forget exactly where the two-headed Llama is located, but it’s near the alley mural. Very different texture and style, obviously not the same artist (the Llamas are a stencil, whereas the mural is almost entirely freehand). But Llamas are always cute.
I don’t know if the stencil is an add-on to the mural by the artist, or if someone else came along and tagged it on top of the mural. But the statement is both enigmatic and profound: “What you risk reveals what you value”.
Another M.C. Escher-esque optical illusion in the mural- when you first look at it you see a redhead with long, flaming hair streaming behind. Then you realize it’s a head with a chicken next to it. But it’s hard to keep seeing the chicken, and easy to go back to seeing the redhead alone.
A while back I posted an item about sometimes the best camera is the camera you have with you at the time you need to take a picture. Certainly, there may be other cameras that are better suited to the task at hand, but they don’t do you any good if you don’t have them with you. To whit, the first image. I came upon this bit of graffiti in an alley between two buildings. It’s almost as if it were an art installation in itself, the way it’s situated. When I first saw it, the camera I had on hand was my iPhone. It certainly did a good job of capturing the scene.
I promised to come back with my Rolleiflex to photograph it again, to see how different the two cameras’ visions were, and how they rendered the scene differently.
It’s not really a fair comparison, given that the sensor for the iPhone is the size of a Q-tip, if that, and the film in my Rolleiflex is 2 1/4 inches square, or about 300 times the size. Also, the lens has a different field of view- the iPhone is somewhere between a 28mm and 35mm lens’ field of view (moderately wide-angle), translated into 35mm equivalent, whereas the lens on my Rollei is a “normal” (50mm equivalent). The two cameras give very different renderings of the scene – the iPhone gives you much more of a sense of the space, whereas the Rollei makes the graffiti the star of the show.
Here is the locked gateway to the space where the graffiti is. Now you can get a sense of the drama of it – it’s hidden behind a locked gate, guarded like some treasure on display at more than an arm’s distance.