Stalking the Wild Photographer by Sheila Paige
On Safari with Charlene Weisler in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, January 20, 2011.
The activity is illegal. Artists must be furtive, stealthy. Their signatures are spoor. The works are perishable. A wall becomes a palimpsest. Rain, snow, wind, rival writings and drawings take their toll of “street art”.
High rents and new construction --gentrification and destruction of walls, buildings – destroy its environment.
A golden age, according to some, bloomed in the 70’s and 80’s in NYC; Charlene points out that around the year 2,000 international exposure greatly amplified the reputation of “street art”.
You can’t really collect it, mount it, or frame it. But you can photograph it.
Most tasteful are the pre-prepared images copied and pasted.
More scarifying are the aerosol and painted images. These are writ large, spilled over from comics and commercial imagery. They could be intended as satire but are so intentionally blatant and overpowering that they are hard to read as such.
First point of interest: Is this stuff art? Is it vandalism or desirable decoration? Should it be considered as the society pages of the street -- the most ephemeral of newspaper sections?
If a street artist gains gallery representation, is he or she still a “street artist”? “Street art” would seem to be necessarily locked onto the walls and surfaces of public streets, vulnerable to weather, gentrification, and whim – not a gallery product. (Yet this is America where everyone hopes to become rich and famous, so perhaps the word “artist” is a synonym for saleable?)
2nd point of interest: the photographer. She is safari tracker/guide, aesthetic arbiter, and impresario. Her art is a photograph. If she documents “street art”, purposively framing it in novel and serendipitous combinations, is the art now hers? Does her work reveal what people walking by a wall loaded with “street art” would miss otherwise?
Is she Marcel Duchamp saying “I am re-framing this situation and I will sign it like a painting and frame it and now you are free to pay for it and enjoy its “je ne sais quoi” in the privacy of your home”?
Surely, photography is the only sensible way to collect this art?
If the lens steals the soul of “street art”, so what? The soul is endangered.