Destroyed and Abandoned buildings along Hoe Ave and the IRT line in the Bronx, 1981. © 2018 Henry Chalfant / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

A new exhibition at the Bronx Museum shows the striking documentary photography of Henry Chalfant, who documented the street art and urban culture in New York City, perhaps most notably the seminal graffiti artists who took over subway trains as their canvas during the 1970s and ’80s. The exhibit Henry Chalfant: Art vs. Transit, 1977-1987 brings back to life a tumultuous, transitionary period in New York City that produced creative movements that became global phenomena. The Bronx Museum calls Chalfant, as “one of the most significant documentarians of street art” documenting in its early emergence, in tandem with the birth of hip hop.

© 2018 Henry Chalfant / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

The Bronx Museum continues, “Chalfant’s photographs are a work of visual anthropology and one of the seminal documents of American popular culture in the late twentieth century.” Chalfant is a graduate of Stanford University and trained originally as a sculptor. He moved to New York City in 1973, where he became interested in graffiti art. He created a technique of shooting exposures in continuous, rapid succession on a 35mm camera so that he could document the entire train by stitching the overlapping images together. His body of work helps retain artwork that, by its nature, has disappeared, and a form that is rarely seen, following the efforts of NYC Transit to clean trains shortly after they are tagged.

© 2018 Henry Chalfant / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

Henry Chalfant: Art vs. Transit, 1977-1987shows not only the painted trains, but behind the scenes images of spray art in action as well as street scenes from Bronx that show the urban youth culture and how the city’s built fabric looked during this decade. The exhibition features work by Dondi, Futura, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Zephyr, and including Bronx legends Blade, Crash, DAZE, Dez, Kel, Mare, SEEN, Skeme, and T-Kid.

Mare and Pade in the New Lots train yard, East New York, NY, 1981. © 2018 Henry Chalfant / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

DJAY KSlay and crew, 102nd St. East Harlem, NY 1983. © 2018 Henry Chalfant / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

DEZ TFA at his Kay Gee wall, Graffiti Hall of Fame, 106th St and Broadway, Manhattan, 1983. © 2018 Henry Chalfant / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

© 2018 Henry Chalfant / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery, New York. Mare 139 paints inside the New Lots train yard, East New York, NY 1981.

Chalfant is the author of the books Subway Art (co-authored with Martha Cooper, published by Holt Rinehart Winston, N.Y. 1984) and Spray Can Art (Thames and Hudson Inc. London, 1987), a co-producer of the PBS documentary Style Wars, and director of Flyin’ Cut Sleeves, a documentary on South Bronx gang life. His work in the 2000s have included Visit Palestine: Ten Days on the West Bank, which won an Alma Award for Best Documentary.

Henry Chalfant: Art vs. Transit, 1977-1987 will be up at the Bronx Museum until March 8, 2020.

Next, check out the latest street art work at the Bowery Mural by Matzu.

 Bronx Museum of the Arts, henry chalfant, Street Art, subway

One Response
  1. The raw and ground breaking work of ‘NYC Transit Art’ in the 70’s and 80’s was phenomenal; a must see exhibit! You had to be here to appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *