Guitarist, black belt and cultural ninja Henry Chalfant has been on the frontlines of the subway graffiti scene for well over 30 years. “Subway Art” — the book he produced along with fellow photographer Martha Cooper — is the movement’s holy book as it helped to transform the way spray paint was used by mischievous kids around the world.
This Thursday Mr. Chalfant, along with Max Hergenrother will be at the Apple store in Soho to discuss the Big Subway Archive, which has been described as a ‘work of visual anthropology and one of the seminal documents of American popular culture in the late twentieth century’. BSA is an incredible window into Chalfant’s crucial collection of photos, as well as interviews with some of subway graffitti’s most influential style masters. BSA is available for download on your iPad with iBooks 2 or on your computer with iTunes. To read this book, you must be using an iPad with iBooks 2.
This scribe has had the benefit of knowing Henroc for some time, and for school credit way back when I had the opportunity to help him organize his massive archive of negatives. He used to keep them all in an unassuming brown suitcase. That suitcase must be lonely now.
Mass Appeal: When did you first embark on the Subway Archive project?
Henry Chalfant: I think it was in 1999 or 2000. It was when you were helping me catalogue all the trains. You were the first of three people who have helped me get this together. After you came Nathan Fox and then Max Hergenrother, both from the graduate program at SVA (School of Visual Arts), with awesome computer skills.
Wowsers. Forgot about that. Earning these gray hairs I guess. What is your goal with the Big Subway Archive project?
The Big Subway Archive is a way to make my entire collection of trains available to the public in one place. A book with 850 images would have been huge and expensive. I think my collection tells the history of a very important art movement when it was in its prime.
Having the ability to experience the masterpieces you’ve captured via the technology we’ve got today, have you discovered anything new about the work itself?
The ability to view each work in detail isolated from other works allows you to see much more than you do when viewing the work on a page with several pieces. This is a welcome novelty and improvement over the books I’ve done in the past, where you end up putting gangs of trains on a page in order to save room.
Did you have any idea when you first started to document the culture that it would go on to have the global impact that its had?
No. This culture was so new, and came in to being seemingly out of nowhere, and I had no idea that it would have the impact it had. It wasn’t until after Subway Art came out, and i started getting mail and photos from kids in other cities and other countries, whose passion had caught fire.
Stylistically, can you tell us who some of your favorite writers are and why?
Really? I can’t do this one in five hours let alone five minutes! Can you reframe the question, sir?
Ah. Right. It’s an election year. I can dig it.