Saturday, February 19, 2005

Gritty urban street art by pussies for pussies

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I posted several pictures on the Flickr photo hosting service a few days ago. One of the pictures was the photo of Park Street, in my beloved Borough, that I posted on this blog earlier in the month. In the bottom corner of the picture there's some stencilled graffiti, saying 'This is Not a Photo Opportunity'.
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As a quick aside, I grew up on the margins of Borough, near Blackfriars Bridge. To me, it was easily the most character-packed part of London. All wharves and Georgian / Victoria shops and houses. I could wax lyrical for ages about the history of the place. Until a few years ago, hardly anyone from outside Borough knew it was there.
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Nothing lasts forever and Borough underwent a period of gentrification over the 1990's through to today. Several tourist attractions were built and opened; based on real or imagined aspects of the area's history. Those old buildings that weren't knocked down were renovated and priced beyond the dreams of mere mortals. The Mary Rose, sorry Globe, theatre 're-opened'. Borough Market went up-market. And the likes of Jamie Oliver, Bridget Jones and the characters from Lock Stock pretended they lived and worked around there. I could vom.
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I've been on sightseeing boat tours around Manhattan Island and through Chicago. My abiding memory of both is how most of the commentary related to what films had been made at various points along the routes 'To the right we can see the famous Corncob Towers made famous by the car chase in Steve McQueen's The Hunter', The Hunter?, 'If you could see past that skyscraper over there you would see the park bench Woody Allen sat on in Annie Hall'. Contrary to popular European belief, Americans actually have a lot of real history at their disposal but they are much more comfortable, and familiar with, the movie stuff; so that's what they get. My guess is that right now, there are tourist walking tours through Borough highlighting the same sort of 'history'.
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One of my greatest regrets is that I didn’t take a lot more pictures of Borough when I was younger before the changes came. My family sold-up a few years ago and I moved a short distance to nearby Lambeth. Lambeth smells. I miss home, but that was another time and another place.
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But I digress.
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After I posted the picture with the stencilled graffiti on it, someone left a comment and a link. The link was to this site here …
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On visiting the site a light bulb switched-on in my head. Over the last couple of years, I've noticed stencilled graffiti popping up all round London. Sometimes it's words, sometimes it's silhouettes. In fact, several pictures on this blog feature this stuff. Due to some peculiar mental blockage it never dawned on me that there might be some kind of movement behind all this. Shortly after looking at the Banksy site I stumbled onto a small Banksy Group on Flikr via someone else's blog.
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I am an active London street photographer and all this has passed me by. Am I slow or what?
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Well, maybe just old and out of touch. Christ, at this rate I'll be listening to Perry Como, well more Perry Como, and mentally pricing things in old money.

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I'm not too sure about how I feel about this stencil thing. True, I have been presented with some excellent photo ops and, by and large, the graffiti is non destructive (though the one at Park Street is pushing it). In honesty, most of the stuff I've seen I like.

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However, it's all a little pretentious for my tastes. Most of the stencil graffiti I've seen is restricted to 'safe' parts of town or places like Shoreditch, Borough and Brick Lane that may seem a little edgy but are mostly colonised by pink, middle-class twenty somethings from the Home Counties. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about pink, middle-class somethings from the Home Counties but, to me with my background, there is something a little affected and false about life in their little enclaves; surrounded by a wilderness of tower blocks, inhabited by people considerably less pink or middle class. One group knows they'll be moving somewhere nicer one day. The other group are stuck in their urban sh*tholes for life.
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I have seen little stencil street art in the really rough parts of town and certainly not in competition with any of the more purposeful 'tagging' you see in these less salubrious neighbourhoods. I have to conclude that the guys responsible for this stuff are essentially pussies.

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However, so am I. They clearly feel comfortable doing their work is exactly the same places that I feel comfortable whipping out my camera equipment. So, even though my purist streak draws me towards more hardcore, 'real' graffiti, I guess our paths will continue to cross for a good while yet.

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4 comments:

Dan said...

any idea why borough high street post office is always surrounded by a wall of drunks?

Stef said...

Good question

I presume you're referring to the small post office at the London Bridge end of the High Street rather than the one further down, opposite Borough tube.

and the answer is I'm really not sure. But I've decided to find out. My gut feel is that it is something to do with the availability of:

- a post office for benefit payment collection
- a 7/11 for beer purchase
- a small alcove set back away from the street where you can lie down drunk without commuters stepping on you

all within a 5m radius

But I also know that Borough High Street and nearby Waterloo Bridge Road have been magnets for vagrants going back to Victorian times and were once lined with doss houses. Maybe it's a Ley Line thing ...

Dan said...

Yeah I'm refering to the London Bridge end. I'd always presumed it was the alcove but your right those other influences most likely play a strong part. Pretty much the only remains of Old' Borough really... even the market seems to be run by the middle classes

Stef said...

Oh yes, the market is heinous

I was walking around there a few days ago and one of the tramps starting mouthing off at a group of passing yuppies. I couldn't pick out exactly waht he was saying except the line 'fucking beigels and fucking bicycles'.

I think I understand where he was coming from ...