Parasites and magnets: a story about street art and photography

July 27th, 2013 | By | 6 Comments »

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I am bored. In fact, I am not that bored, I am more disillusioned. But why?

Firstly I am slightly fed up of seeing a lack of creativity in much of the street art I am currently viewing in London, hence these photos of interesting pieces by Monkey and the ATG Crew in Hvar, Croatia I snapped whilst on holiday a couple of months ago. It may just be that I am looking in the wrong places, and don’t get me wrong, there are a huge amount of artists living and working in London that I admire, but it seems I keep seeing the same dull work from many others.

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But that is not quite why I am writing. It is a second point that has caused me to become even more disillusioned. Money makes the world go around and money always seeps into everything eventually, street art included. This is not necessarily a bad thing, artists need money to keep doing what they are doing in addition to feeding and clothing themselves, but at the same time money brings parasites.

These parasites, as I like to call them, come in various forms and varieties. You have flippers, forgers, and reclaimers, who just steal street art off the street to sell. Then there are others, such as agents, who I will never understand really. An agent, really?

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But there seems to be a final parasite that is increasing in numbers, and that’s the photographer. Actually photographer is a bad term to use, but they call themselves that so, so be it. A photographer to me is someone that is creative, an artist with a camera. Someone who sees a shot, frames it, and shoots it. Taking light, composition, angle and various other important aspects into account. A good photographer (at this point note Mark Rigney, Sandra Butterfly, NoLionsinEngland, RomanyWG, HowAboutNo, Martha Cooper, Ian Cox et al), makes an image come to life in a photo. They add something to a picture.

I see photographers as important for a couple of reasons, firstly as I have previously alluded to, they are artists in their own right and I am all for creative people who have something interesting to exhibit. But secondly, and more importantly to an extent, is their ability to document. Martha Cooper is the prime example and others have followed suit. My pictures in this post are a documentation of street art in Croatia and this blog is a documentation of street art from around the world. In essence it becomes a window to history and that’s why I have a penchant for photography.

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Yet over the last two weeks in particular, and over the last few weeks, months and years in general, I have become disillusioned. In no small part because of the increasing numbers of people printing Banksy images onto canvas and selling them at every market in London, but more recently by photographers tapping into the same practice.

Over the last two weekends I have attended two outdoor art events. One in Brixton, and one near Old Street. Both these events have included some fantastic, talented artists, and in particular, Brixton had a few great photographers who’s work I really admired. But both have also had those types of photographers who steal others’ creativity.

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Poor photos are one thing, but couple that with a market stall, price labels, and in one case fridge magnets and Oyster card holders and you have a recipe for disaster. Gone is the creativity and the innovation of a good photographer or even if the documentation that the mediocre photographer can provide. All you are left with is poor photos, bad cropping and product.

There has been a recent breakthrough on this subject with regard to Wooster Collective working their magic to ensure than Art.com offers commission to artists and show artists the photos they are hoping to use before they start selling them. This really is a massive step in ensuring that companies who deal in wall art act in a moral manner, but as RJ mentioned in his post on the subject, this is far from a complete problem solver.

In one of the cases I came across, I asked if the photographer had got permission from the artists. He said yes of course, the majority had agreed and that they are extremely grateful for their work getting promoted.

I would have loved to have been there when the guy asked Banksy, Eine, Phlegm, Mr. Brainwash, Os Gemeos and others if he could use their images to make money for himself. I hardly believe they are happy that others are making financial gains without paying any dues, in this case commission.

At a time when there are so many good artists releasing high quality affordable screen prints and even originals, it annoys me that some members of the general public are paying out sums of money for awful images. The stall at the street party near Old Street always had a large crowd around it with people paying good money for pictures they could have taken themselves and printed at home.

The moral of this story is that if you are reading this thinking about lining the pockets of one of these so called photographers, then I urge you to invest that money in your own camera, get outside and take some photos yourself. And if you need a bit of training then get yourself along to one of NoLions photography workshops if he organises a few more soon, fingers crossed he does, as they were very well received. Be creative, don’t let others steal what in essence is meant to be free art for all to enjoy.

This problem is not going to disappear completely, but you can all do your bit by not handing your money over to these parasitic photographers, and don’t let your mates do it either. In fact, I believe this is where street art tours come into their own as they get the general public into places where they can take their own documentary images. It is summer, so get yourself outside, walk around, see what turns your head, and just be creative.

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Photos all by Shower. Not purchased in any way. Taken himself whilst on holiday in Hvar, Croatia. And they will not be printed onto magnets any time soon!


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  • lancephoto

    I already made a tee-shirt out of that third photo above and will be selling them on eBay soon! jk
    But on a serious note, I wonder what Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Roy Lichtentstein would make of this phenomena, considering their work has been continually bastardized and marketed hard.

  • CDH

    A few months ago I saw one of my street artworks crappily photographed, printed onto postcard sized paper and for sale at a market for $5, by the archetypal “parasite” photographer you’re describing. I asked them who the artist was; they had no idea and no citation.
    I know most artists won’t feel this way, but I’m totally ok with that. I think the street art I put on the street is common cultural property so it belongs to everyone to use for any purpose. I don’t make commercial art, so I don’t feel that I’m being denied any income by this. My interest is in the process of creating the works and once it’s on the street it’s in a new phase of its life cycle and we’ve parted ways. Some of my friends became outraged because they thought an unscrupulous photographer was profiting off my work but I had to try to explain that I made the art for my own reasons, not to profit off the final product.
    I know most other street artists don’t feel this way and that’s fine too. This is just how I feel.
    Incidentally, the Situationist International had a similar philosophy and declared that all culture was common property, so for example all their texts are available online at no cost. I also like this idea.

  • http://www.LDNGraffiti.co.uk LDNGraffiti

    Nice pics…

  • MPReed

    Can’t remember the last time I read such a bitter, nasty, vile post on here. Those “parasites” ? they’re working class stall holders trying to make a living in an economy that is crumbling. Maybe if you climbed down off your high horse and spoke to some of these stallholders you’d find they are up at six, loading a van, trekking across town, and scraping, in my eyes at least, an honest living. Maybe if you got your manicured hands dirty yourself one day, you’d understand. These are not a vast corporation the likes of which Wooster campaigned against, but people hustling to make a living. Showing the same if not more entrepreneurial spirit than most of the street artists you hold in high regard. As for your own badly composed, not to mention exposed images not appearing on fridge magnets anytime soon.. well..I don’t think the readership here would be surprised.

    peace and love

  • Tom

    I’m sorry for feel that way Martyn. I hope the post does not impact on your option of Vandalog as a whole. RJ provides me with a platform for me to express my feelings and share interesting street art related information and I doubt he agrees with everything I say all the time. So I hope this does not result in your reading of this blog.

    I would disagree that I am sat up on my high horse. I have spent time doing exactly what these photographers are doing. I worked for a very good photographer myself, all be it landscape and architecture based, and worked on market stalls in the pouring rain, and then in his small gallery calculating out if we have made enough to keep him going. He relied, to an extent, on an annual Christmas market to prop him up for the rest of the year and I saw the amount of work he put into it first hand, the 12 hour days, the carting materials around town, the accounting at the end of the day when it’s the last thing you want to be doing. I had ultimate respect for his hard work and luckily I had the pleasure of being able to help him out and sell his work. I know what it’s like.

    As a result I take slight offence that you accuse me of having manicured hands! I have nothing against those that are hustling to make a living, you seem to think I may be having a rant about everyone who is out there trying to make a living in this manner. It is not, this post was simply about a few photographers that are selling other peoples hard work.

    The thing I love about street art is that it is available to all. You do not have to pay to visit a gallery, you do not even have to plan a trip around one. You can walk past it at any time of the day, on any day of the year and appreciate a piece that is interesting, insightful and sometimes just plain fun. And as a result it annoys me that people are simply jumping on the back of artists creativity, pretending they have asked for the artists permission, pretending they are friends with all the artists in question.

    In fact I would never have written this article unless I had been to Whitecross Street. I liked the person I met in Brixton. They enjoyed the street art itself and did come across like someone who was in it for some of the right reasons even if they didn’t know all the artists work themselves. I had to point out who Logan Hicks and Paul Insect were. But it was the couple at Whitecross that annoyed me the most. Their approach to it all came across in the same vein as those who steal work of walls to sell in auctions. They did not have respect for the artwork in my opinion.

    I suppose that I have always struggled with the concept of money and art. I quite like the traditional idea that street art is free, but in reality is never will be, its too much of a contemporary art form now, and always has been since Dondi took it into a gallery space. I just like the concept that street art really is free to all even if it isn’t.

    I actually found CDH’s comments very interesting and the way he has parted ways with a piece one it is displayed in public. I would be intrigued to know if many other artists feel the same. I suppose that a photographer, no matter what their ilk, is displaying a sense of respect to said artist when they take a photo of a piece but it’s the motives that often bug me, that is all.

    Finally, thanks for having a dig at my photography. I never profess to be a good photographer, I know very little about the technical side of the profession. But that’s your opinion, next time I will endeavour to include some photos that impress you a little more. Perhaps you could just take them for me if you feel so strongly about it all.

  • MPReed

    Hey Tom, no hard feelings mate, and apologies for the low dig about the photos. Having a misspent youth hustling on Market stalls from Leeds to Camden selling everything from Fruit and Veg to Knock Off glow in the Dark ET’s maybe coloured my opinion on the post. Certainly the use of the word “Parasite” didn’t help.

    I’m told by colleagues not to get into online forum and blog spats, that it could damage the Nuart “brand”, so of course I understand the difference between posts and Vandalog in general. Which incidentally I’m a big fan of. Hopefully people are able to separate my rants from Nuart.. or on second thoughts.. hopefully not.

    I have no real opinion on the ethics of photographing work on the streets and producing knock off canvasses to sell on market stalls. I guess in reality, it’s fine, depending on the persons circumstances. A hustle is a hustle, and the state of the UK economy and the opportunities afforded people these days are woeful. If someone has the bright idea to shoot street art and flog it on a stand, well, it’s such a minor issue in the grand scheme of things that it really, IMO, doesn’t warrant the post you made to the audience you have, and certainly not the terminology you used. Which is more suited to the Daily Mail.

    I was recently in Spain and my window overlooked an outdoor market selling hand made jewelry, fruit and veg, fridge magnets, knock off Nike, whatever, to mostly, wealthy tourists. These people were setting up at 6am and packing down at midnight. They were some of the most down to earth, no bullshit, intelligent, community based, creative and entrepreneurial people I met there, (also relatively poor)..I was at quite a few meetings where they could have taught a few of the arts execs a thing or two about honesty and commerce.

    I think in any other society, and certainly in other social strata, these stallholders initiatives to navigate (hustle?) and make a living from the street in a crumbling late onset capitalist culture, would and maybe should be applauded.

    So to call them parasites, well… I found that worthy of comment and stallholders in general, worthy of defense. Regardless of what they’re selling.

    Ultimately, I guess there is no “absolute” here and opinions will always differ. Certainly food for thought, and in that respect, thanks for the interesting post.

    NB : There’s certainly an argument to be made for creative photographers shooting street art and selling it in editions as “photographs”, but again, I guess this is down to how the image is composed and cropped and the context/form in which it’s presented. But perhaps that’s another discussion.

    Peace
    Martyn