Articles by

rachel alban

Rachel is a photographer and author who documents street art and other New York City secrets. In addition to photography, Rachel practices Art Therapy and Art Education in schools and community centers. She recently adopted Baxter, the 5 Pointz cat. Get in touch at www.FawnNYC,com.

06/25/14 10:00am

Image by Liz Ligon Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.  An arrangement of photographs taken by Martha Cooper. Image by Liz Ligon Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.
Life-size photograph of graffiti artist Dondi taken by Martha Cooper. Photographs of subways covered in graffiti taken by Henry Chalfant displayed along the walls in the City As Canvas exhibit.

With some exceptions, graffiti often hides in plain sight. But both its creators and the photographers that capture these works of art aren’t always as visible, a pattern the Museum of the City of New York interrupted with its panel discussion last week, On the Front Lines: Graffiti’s Documenters, that brought together photographers featured in the current exhibit City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection.  In a delightful presentation, legendary photographers Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant, Flint Gennari, and Jon Naar, along with moderator and artist/author Jay J.SON Edlin, shared their images documenting graffiti writing in the 1970s and 1980s. Their stories gave us a glimpse of some of their earliest experiences photographing the graffiti culture.

Graffiti Kids, photograph by Jon Naar, 1973. ©Jon Naar   Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including artists, such as the pictured kids, posing with their work. Graffiti Kids, photograph by Jon Naar, 1973.
Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including artists, such as the pictured kids, posing with their work.

What isn’t immediately noticed in photographs of graffiti is the intimate relationship between photographers and graffiti artists. The photographers befriended and promoted the young graffiti artists at a time when the art movement was highly controversial and had very little support.  Jon Naar described meeting writers for the first time and realizing they were just young children. He remembered feeling surprised, but not frightened as he shot his iconic photograph, Graffiti Kids (above), and discussed their resilience in finding ways to survive and thrive in very neglected neighborhoods in the city.

One of the photographs included in the presentation by Henry Chalfant. The photographers would often have kids seeking  them out to photograph new work on trains. One of the photographs included in the presentation by Henry Chalfant. The photographers would often have kids seeking them out to photograph new work on trains. In this photo, we see Henry’s shadow as he photographs a direct message from a writer.

The photographers further explained how over time, their relationship with the writers became collaborative. Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper famously had writers calling them about their newest work on trains. As photographers favored certain train lines because of features like lighting, background, and location, eventually writers would gravitate towards those spots too. Young artists would “bomb” specific train lines because they were more likely to be photographed.

One of the photographs included in the presentation by Flint. A writer himself as well as a photographer, Flint's work offers rare glimpses into the graffiti culture of that time, such as this image of a writer tagging inside a subway car. A photograph presented by Flint.

For Flint Gennari, the relationship between writer and photographer was even more intimate. He was writer as well as a photographer, documenting his peers and friends.  Flint’s work offers a rare glimpse into the graffiti culture of that time, such as this image (above) of a writer tagging inside a subway car.

Redbird (Stay High 149) photograph by Jon Naar, 1973.©Jon Naar Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including landscape images of graffiti-covered subway trains rumbling through the city. This particular photograph is of a train painted by STAY HIGH 149, a pioneer in the writing movement.  Redbird (Stay High 149), photograph by Jon Naar, 1973.
Photographer Jon Naar documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s including landscape images of graffiti-covered subway trains rumbling through the city. This particular photograph is of a train painted by STAY HIGH 149, a pioneer in the writing movement.

Since we first interviewed the curator and met some of the artists , we have seen City As Canvas take on a life of it’s own through excellent public programs.  What makes these programs special is that they offer the public a rare opportunity to meet and interact with some of the earliest graffiti artists in New York City and their documenting photographers.  The book signing and reception after the presentation gave guests plenty of time to mingle.

The photographers who documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s posing with their work, remind us of their muses, the Graffiti Kids.  Pictured: curator Sean Corcoran, Jay Edlin, Martha Cooper, Jon Naar, and Henry Chalfant. Pictured: curator Sean Corcoran, Jay Edlin, Martha Cooper, Jon Naar, and Henry Chalfant.
The photographers who documented New York’s graffiti art movement in 1970s and ’80s posing with their work, remind us of their muses, the Graffiti Kids.

The next public program in this series, Graffiti (R)Evolution: Graphic Design and Fine Art, is coming up on Wednesday, July 9 at 6:30 p.m. Join Cey Adams, founding creative director of Def Jam Recordings, and accomplished collage artist Greg Lamarches for a conversation moderated by graffiti artist Dave “Chino” Villorente on the evolution of graffiti from illicit underground movement to international force in the contemporary arts.

And, if you are looking for some kid-friendly Untapped events, be sure to check out the awesome family programs at MCNY.

What makes these programs special is that they offer the public a rare opportunity to meet and interact with some of the earliest graffiti artists in New York City and the documenting photographers. What makes these programs special is that they offer the public a rare opportunity to meet and interact with some of the earliest graffiti artists in New York City and the documenting photographers.

Take note, the exhibition has been extended and will be on view until Monday, September 1, 2014.

Get in touch with the author at Rachel Fawn Alban  and follow her on instagram.

06/05/14 12:00pm
Mural by Dasic.

Mural by Dasic.

Responsible for at least 30 of the freshest new murals in Bushwick is Exit Room, a wonderful gallery and cultural space. Located at 270 Meserole Street, (two blocks from the L train’s Montrose Ave. stop) Exit Room has been busy working on these murals in preparation for their first annual Juicy Art Festival.  This three-day art and music festival, running from June 5-7, is dedicated to bringing the arts and community together through street art, music, and performance.

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05/30/14 10:00am

Near DeKalb Ave Station, a mural by Joe Iurato who will soon be a curator at Mana Museum of Urban Arts in Jersey City. Near DeKalb Ave Station, a mural by Joe Iurato for The Bushwick Collective. Iurato will soon be curating the new Mana Museum of Urban Arts in Jersey City.

If you haven’t made it out to The Bushwick Collective yet to check out the amazing street art, this weekend would be a great time to go! The Collective is kicking off the summer with its 1st annual gallery show and 3rd annual block party.  We recently had a chance to revisit this street art hotspot, which has featured famous and up-and-coming artists for the past three years.  (more…)

04/28/14 12:00pm
Artists respond to the abrupt closing of Pearl Paint. "Gentrification in Progress" tape by Gilf.

In response to the abrupt closing of Pearl Paint, “Gentrification in Progress” tape and candles by Gilf.

Pearl Paint on Canal Street, the shop famous for its checkered red and white facade and affordable, specialized art supplies, closed last week. Workers were fired, possibly illegally. Meanwhile, the “outstanding condo conversion opportunity” is listed for sale at a public asking price of $15 million. Many New Yorkers have taken the news with shock and sadness. Indeed, it is becoming a familiar feeling as real estate prices and developers have been squeezing artists and creatives particularly hard.

Street artist Gilf has responded to the abrupt closing of Pearl Paint with an installation at the site. Comprised of barricade tape that reads “Gentrification in Progress” and homemade candles that spell out “Rest in Peace”, the display makes a clear and poignant statement.

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04/17/14 9:00am
Rachel Fawn Alban_Untapped Cities_New York_April 2014_Moving Murals Exhibit_Graffiti_Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper1

Henry Chalfant’s train photographs

Art on the streets is a vital component of New York City culture, and it was never more prominent than in the late 1970s and early 80s – a period which is now regarded as the “Golden Age of Graffiti.” During that time, photographers Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper famously documented the subculture of the graffiti movement and its vibrant art works, which were spray painted on the trains and on the streets. These photographs are currently on view at City Lore‘s exhibition: Moving Murals: Henry Chalfant & Martha Cooper’s All-City Graffiti Archive.

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04/07/14 10:00am
Detail of a painting by Meres One

Detail of a painting by Meres One, who was curator and resident artist at 5 Pointz.

The iconic 5 Pointz building in Long Island City may have been painted over, but the artists can’t be silenced.  In the Whitewash show at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery, members of the graffiti collective have voiced their thoughts and feelings after discovering that the beloved art center had been suddenly whitewashed overnight.

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