click photo to enlarge
The meaning of the word "graffito" has become modified in the past fifty or so years. During the first half of the twentieth century it had two meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes this as the definitions first recorded in 1851: "A drawing or writing scratched on a wall or other surface; a scribbling on an ancient wall, as those at Pompeii and Rome. Also, a method of decoration in which designs are produced by scratches through a superficial layer of plaster, glazing, etc., revealing a ground of different colour". The latter applied mainly to pottery.
However, the newer meaning, with a citation of use dating back to a Chicago newspaper in 1967 is: "Words or images marked (illegally) in a public place, esp. using aerosol paint." At that time the singular tended to drop out of use and the plural now tended to serve for all references. The key word in the newer definition is "illegal". From that time onwards the illegality of the growing amount of graffiti, particularly when "tagging" arose, became one of its defining features and was what turned most people against it. Graffiti became "underground" and anti-establishment.
But, the establishment has a long record of absorbing anti-establishment movements and making them mainstream. From the Beat poets to punk rock businesses have seen such trends as new ways to make money. It has happened with graffiti too. Works by graffiti artists now appear in galleries. Public spaces, such as the skate-boarders meeting place on London's South Bank, are made available and a blind eye is turned to spray painting. And, as today's photograph shows, advertising has appropriated graffiti-style illustration now that it is no longer solely associated with urban grime and illegality. This example is part of a wall in a passage in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, that leads to a printing business's establishment.
My view on graffiti has changed with the prevailing tide. I still abhor illegally daubed tags and even well-done painting if it is done without the owner's permission. But I can see interest and innovation in some of the graffiti that I come across and I have been motivated to photograph it - see here and here.
photograph and text © Tony Boughen
Camera: Canon 5DMk2
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/25
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On