As part of an ongoing project for Agence France-Presse, I recently had the opportunity to photograph a group of street artists known as Ground Release as they created new pieces on the walls of the communal area of Trellick Tower in north London. Never having seen these guys at work, I was half assuming they may be a little reticent when it came to having a photographer in their midst but they all proved to be a top bunch of chaps.
Wanting to see the whole thing from start to finish, I arrived in time to see them painting over all of the old tags and graffiti that covered the walls. With every possible square inch of surface already daubed in tags and graffiti, the plan was to create a clean canvas and provide the area with some consistent artwork that could brighten it up, rather than countless repetitions of the same names over and over again.
After laying down a neutral coat, the team got to it, all working on their own section of wall. Never having worked with or talked to street artists before, it was interesting to find out that only a couple of the ten guys involved had any idea of what they were going to do. For most of them, they just went with the flow and would be working on ideas that they’d been developing in other recent work. Of the two that were working from plans, one was working from a rough sketch while another guy kept consulting the concept sketch on his iPhone screen.
I was actually shocked at how little interaction there was from the residents throughout the day. While the handful that did come downstairs to check out their new art were friendly and wanted to take pictures, only one seemed concerned but after a few minutes discussion, came round to the idea and was last heard saying how much he could appreciate the artwork over random tagging.
The thing that I found hardest to get my head around was the tiny lifespan that is expected of the final work. One guy spent all day on his section and was very close to completion by the time the light faded. When I chatted to him about what he had left to do, he prefaced his reply with; “If it’s still here tomorrow…”
Aside from leaving me feeling a little like a middle-aged uncle trying to relate to his teenage nephews (making an aerosol of myself?), it was a really fascinating day, chatting to these guys. I just stupidly assumed that street artists still used spray paint from their local car spares shop but while your local tagger may well do, the serious artists have whole ranges of professional quality paint in cans designed for exactly this purpose. Golly, don’t I sound completely out of touch with the youth?
The reason that I was actually on-site that day was to create a time-lapse of the artists at work but spending time with them provided so many more opportunities that just that. I will be sharing the time-lapse when it’s published by AFP. Watch this highly-decorated space…