I’ve long been fascinated with graffiti, since the 80’s when this art form exploded in New York City and I was fascinated in particular with the trains I viewed on my trips north from Florida. I slept on a hardwood floor in a walk-up on the lower east side. CBGBs, in its heyday, was downstairs and on the next block Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were stewing a magical sauce. Long nights of investigating clubs took me to mystical places, including a giant old theater with walls and ceilings graced with paintings by Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring. I could not take my eyes of off the shimmering light reflected from the day glow, or the giant house and robotic mammoth video screen constructions that periodically were lowered onto a dance floor the size of a football field packed with writhing bodies.
Early morning stumbles to purchase fresh bread out of the back door of a commercial bakery close by brought me in sight of an opposing wall graced with graffiti placed there by artists and destined to become the next art store. I did not understand what I was seeing back then but it infused me with inspiration and a love for the raw freshness of that renegade art form, a love that remains with me. The 80’s were my coming -of -age time and, fueled by curiosity, yes I confess to indulging, but I can only attribute my survival to a simple fear of extreme behavior. So many did not.
Moving forward to a few years ago, I was invited by a younger and very talented photographer, Brian Braun (referred to as “Bad Ass”), to tag along on his photo shoot of a hip Neo-Punk band. Destination: an undisclosed train yard. To my surprise, I was greeted by some old friends. Sitting right before me were – not desecrated by a single modification –intact and pure in their 80s essence – Long Island RR train cars.
I happily proceeded to snap away with my Nikon. Since I was newly introduced to the world of digital photography, I had no idea what I was doing, so I kept it on auto – shooting in jpeg only. That day I grabbed one of my favorite shots of “Vintage” graffiti shown here in my image that I titled “Cranker.” It shows a bold character that is painted and not sprayed, a rare example of 80’s essence equipped with a lovely crackly surface infused with nearly 30 years of decay.
This was an inspiring gift to me by an exciting artist, Brian Braun, who seems to look at every new location with fresh enthusiasm. His ability to find a bold graphic painting within his photography brings out a secret fascination with even the minute snippets he pulls out of a place.
I have taken the gift and recorded more boxcar graffiti found on other trains. For instance, the CSX railroad right outside my studio has offered a more current palette for me. I heard they were parking those fifteen cars next to my studio simply to store them. What a boon for me!
Interwoven on the inside and outside was a canvas of diverse murals of sprayed graffiti. That’s when I captured “Potato Head.”
As I travel around Florida snapping relics of decay whenever a train is close by, I look to the boxcars to snap more graffiti, always hoping for more vintage cars. But I have never come close to the day when Brian Braun bestowed that wonderful gift. I cannot help but wonder how far these graffiti images have traveled on the boxcars and carriers of toxic materials out of the phosphate mines. Could these be the silent testimony of the many towns laced with the CSX tracks? Could this be the call for help from the forgotten class of youth making that desperate mark of the renegade graffiti a simple but yet piercing transitory art?
Dedicated to the memory of a talented and inspirational photographer, thank you for being my friend.
Aug. 28, 1973 – Sep. 20, 2014 Brian David Braun.