Graffiti photo essay: Part 1

I’ve been meaning to do a post about graffiti for a while. The word “graffito” is an archaeological term meaning “an ancient drawing or writing scratched on a wall or other surface”; graffitiis the plural. So the cavemen were the first graffiti artists!
In modern day, ithas come to mean markings, as initials, slogans, or drawings, written, spray-painted, or sketched on a sidewalk, wall of a building or public restroom, or the like”. It still has associations withdeviancy, delinquency and pointless defacement of property. But yet, it isincreasingly regarded as urban art with its legitimacy cemented by artists suchas Banksy—whose work is displayed in galleries and sold at auction, whilesimultaneously being sold in mass produced form as posters and t-shirts etc. Nowwhat was once a subculture (like tattoos) has become mainstream. This blurringthe boundaries between high and low culture is a semiotician’s wet dream.    


I have a love/hate relationship with graffiti. I really likephotographing it and feel that when executed well, it holds its own againstother types of visual art. The good kind tends to be colourful—literally or inits tone; edgy and often humorous or political. The bad kind is ugly and crap! I did a newspaper article before on it and even a local graffitiartist condemned bad quality graffiti and wanton defacement of property. Several councillors agreed that people are entitled to expressthemselves artistically through the medium of graffiti but there is a time anda place. Cllr Kathleen Leddin suggested that there be designated walls/areasfor it, as is the case in other European countries. I’d be in favour of that. As always, I welcome other opinions…but only if you agree with mine 😉 
I was out taking photos in Limerick yesterday morning so I did a small photo essay of the good, the bad and the ugly graffiti. I’ll do another post with graffiti photos taken locally and abroad after this…
The good…
I love these ones, which are made from stencils. Famousgraphic artists who use stencils include the aforementioned, Banksy, and BlekLe Rat. There are a few images dotted around town but there’s Little CatherineStreet has a cluster, particularly in Limerick Lane.The detail in some of these is just excellent and ‘Hatch 22’ was sprayed by some so I presume that is thealias of the group or artist who did them (If anyone knows, I’d like tointerview Limerick’s answer to Banksy).  

The bad and the ugly…
I especially hate when people write really stupid things and,worse, on something that cost lots of money to restore/build. Bad spelling/personalabuse is another common feature with graffiti. These two examples are both inPeople’s Park and I presume drawn by the same idiot, although they do travel inpacks. A few years back, there were quite a few ‘F**k da police’ graffitiaround town. Gardaí don’t have an existential crisis or break down and cry ifthey catch sight of this clever slogan so it’s a total waste of time! One example of this new variation is on the RichardRussell Fountain—beautifully restored by Limerick Civic Trust at an estimatedcost of €100,000. The other is on the new addition to Limerick City Gallery ofArt and the Access II grant given for that refurbishment alone was nearly €1million. Granted, the clean-up cost should be small but it’s the principle ofit!! Also, for once I’d like to go to a toilet in a public place and not haveto read inane rubbish scribbled on the cubicle walls. Something you write whenyou’re peeing/drunk is NEVER profound!
The example below reminds me of the time when the shiny, newgarage door at home was defaced with permanent marker by some local teenagershanging around outside. Some of these bright sparks daubed their full names onit! So my father knocked on one of their doors and the girl’s angry parentsmade her scrub it all off. There’s a moral here…and how many people can therebe christened ‘Shanice McSomething’ around the place?! There is another phenomenon in this example—poor graffiti‘tagging’. Tagging is a graffiti signature so in the same way an artist signs apainting, graffiti artists sign their work. Where’s the amazing mural you ask?There isn’t one; someone just spray-painted their name/something illegible on awall. Warning: Genius at work! Limerick has had itsproblems with this before, local press articles here and here. 

Reviews: Tales of the Unexpected 2/Abandoned Mansions of Ireland

Since I practice what I preach, I checked out two of the events I mentioned in recent posts.

Theatre in The Loft

I went to see Tales of the Unexpected 2 by the Quarry Players in the Loft on opening night, October 25. The two one-act plays were enjoyable. After Midnight—Before Dawn was suitably unnerving for the Halloween season. The play is about six prisoners convicted of witchcraft and whether they will try to escape the gallows at any cost. The tensions were high as the moral dilemmas played out. The cast all turned in strong performances, particularly Michelle O’Flanagan as the mysteriously calm woman.

The Fat Lady Sings had a few laugh out loud moments as it charted an amateur drama group’s attempts to sabotage a rival production. The play lampoons the am-dram scene quite well, with four very different personalities at play. Several of the people I was with singled Eibhlin Conroy out for her brilliant comic timing.

Tales of the Unexpected 2 runs until Friday (October 28) nightly at 8pm. Tickets are €10 and can be booked on the Loft Booking Line on 085-2085737.

Abandoned Mansions of Ireland exhibition

I also popped down to have a look at the exhibition, Abandoned Mansions of Ireland, by photographer Tarquin Blake in the Raggle Taggle space. The houses are beautiful, even in their various states of decay. They are mostly monochrome, which emphasises their starkness. I noticed a few long exposures too and that gives the photos an appropriate ghostly quality. It is haunting in more ways than one.

The explanatory notes besides the pictures are also fascinating i.e. Ardfry House in Galway was featured in the Paul Newman film, The MacKintosh Man. The house was given a new roof and windows especially—just to be burnt down, destroying many internal features. Another interesting note was about Buttevant Castle in which it explains how Buttevant got its name from the French “Boutez en avant” (“Push forward”). David De Barry captured the castle from the McCarthy clan after one of their own soldiers betrayed them. He still got his head chopped off for his trouble. Every house has a story and the exhibition also tells a tale about the landed gentry, their often decadent lifestyle and the historical/cultural changes in Ireland though the years.

There are several photos of mansions in County Limerick including the gate-house of Castle Oliver, Mount Shannon House, Dromore Castle and Ballinagarde House. The last two have quirky histories. Parts of the Peter O’Toole film, High Spirits, were filmed at Dromore and Ballinagarde House is dubbed ‘I doubt it Hall’ locally because the one-time master allegedly made the statement on his deathbed when told he was going to a better place!

My only qualm is that the pictures were printed on canvas and the grainy texture of the material makes some of the detail in the photos hard to see up close. That’s a very minor thing and the canvas format may have been chosen to make the photos resemble paintings. The photos on display and many more are contained in Blake’s book, Abandoned Mansions of Ireland, which is available in bookshops.

The free exhibition—in association with the Hunt Museum and the Irish Georgian Society—is well worth a look and it’s on until November 11. The space on Sarsfield Street is open 12-6 Mon-Sat and 2-5pm on Sundays.

Women of Concern Photo Exhibition/Posters at LCGA

There is a fantastic photographic exhibition featuring projects from Women of Concern, which is visiting the Hunt Museum until March 31. It was truly moving to see images of the real people getting help and hope from the Irish charity.

It features photos by Marie McCallan of Limerick-based photographic agency, Press 22. Her pictures of ‘pavement dwellers’ in Bangladesh and their survival against the odds were very striking. Two other fine photographers, Kim Haughton and Brenda Fitzsimons, traveled to Ethiopia and Haiti respectively to catalogue Concern’s work.

Each shot is accompanied by the story behind the picture—most of which are harrowing and inspiring in equal measures.

Many of Haughton’s pictures illustrated some of the most frightening situations women in Africa face every day i.e. rape and forced marriages. Fitzsimon’s photos have a solarised effect on them giving a surreal, post-Apocalyptic edge to the scenes of devastation in Haiti after the earthquake.

It reminded me of an exhibition I saw in the post-modern art gallery, the CaixaForum, in Madrid when I was there before Christmas. It focused on vital charity work with children all over the world and connoted through the individuals’ experiences. The portraits were blown up and printed on partitions taller than myself so the detail was incredible.

The Hunt Museum does a 2 for 1 admission deal on Mondays and it’s free from 2 to 6 on Sundays. It costs a fiver for adults on any given day. The exhibition is in the gallery space, downstairs from the reception/giftshop.

Kim Haughton is also doing a free lunchtime lecture at the Hunt Museum at 1pm on March 25.

Posters at LCGA
I went down to the LCGA Off-Site to check out the Michael O’Connor Poster Collection, which was really interesting. There were a lot of German examples and some great designs. The one gripe I had was that there were no labels beside the posters to identify origin or designer. I took a few snaps but I don’t think I did it justice! The exhibition is on until Wednesday 16.

Latest camera club stuff

It’s a New Year and Limerick Camera Club is back. One of the resolutions is to keep at the photography and maybe even get better at it.

Just a snap of the bridge near the lock at the start of the Park Canal. The result of the one afternoon I took pictures in the sub zero weather. My hand kept freezing and I literally couldn’t operate the camera. Got a few nice shots but nothing special.

The black and white is of the front of the opera house in Nantes in sunnier climes— converted from colour. Love all the lines in it but the experts tell me I have a problem with ‘converging verticals’. As if the hypochondria wasn’t bad enough!! Goin to check out the suggested online tutorial, ‘Getting it straight’, to try to solve that.

Great feedback as always and at the first competition night of 2010, the pics came third in Beginners’ Colour and first in Beginners’ black and white. Unfortunately there were only four and three entries in each category respectively ha ha. Back to the drawing board…

Crash-mas tree, oh Crash-mas tree

Had a great day’s snapping last Monday. Great to get a dry day after the biblical rain we’ve been getting lately. Spent a longgggg morning trying to take a self-portrait for the challenge category at the Limerick Camera Club monthly competition night. The one I submitted is my new profile pic (see top right). My idea was to take a shot of myself in a mirror looking at a childhood photo of myself. The picture on the left of that was taken the last time I had a fringe, back in 1988. Literally had to take 80 photos with the remote. Discovery=not only do I hate having my picture taken but I also hate taking it!

The black and white photo came third in the beginners’ black and white category. It’s the weathervane on top of the restored Russell fountain in People’s Park. Luckily just caught the sky trail of a plane passing overhead.

The Christmas tree above is actually the top section of the now infamous eco-friendly, metal tree that was floated on a pontoon in the river…until it made a break for freedom in a rough high tide and wedged itself against the Shannon Bridge. The headlines are a subeditor’s wet dream…’Tide Christmas’ was my suggestion. It’s still marooned on the side of the river, in bits. Only in Limerick!! Made a nice photo as a silhouette though, gorgeous sunset.