Photos Sabekst & Kazewar Words Matthew Fauster
In the darkest corners of Lower Manhattan, some of the most prominent graffiti writers take turns in a gestural exercise they’ve practiced countless times before. Working swiftly, they are not racing against the inevitable police patrol, but rather the shutter of the camera set on a tripod yards away from the activity. The motions create an indelible mark on the resulting long-exposure photograph instead of the city streets.
Featuring a veritable “who’s who” of the New York graffiti landscape, some of the most infamous vandals, including Guess, Remo, Cinik and Dceve, have collaborated with Sabekst and Kazewar on this intriguing series. “It’s an ongoing project, documenting the most skilled and dedicated handstyles from New York and other major cities,” says Sabe. In place of a spray can or marker, each writer is equipped with an LED light or road flare to write their name in mid-air. The image disappears as soon as it is created. The signature only becomes visible when looking at the resulting photograph.
Although unconventional, this technique is not new. The first artist to apply this method to photography was Man Ray with his “Space Writing” series in 1935. However, the most well-known example is a series of portraits of Picasso taken by Gjon Mili for LIFE Magazine in 1949. “Picasso,” LIFE magazine reported at the time, “gave Mili 15 minutes to try one experiment. He was so fascinated by the result that he posed for five sessions, projecting 30 drawings of centaurs, bulls, Greek profiles and his signature.” This series became known as Picasso’s “Light Drawings” and was exhibited the following year at the Museum of Modern Art.
Unlike Picasso’s artwork, graffiti is inherently ephemeral. Walls and gates are inevitably erased by the buff and even the most permanent inks eventually fade. The only real permanence in graffiti is its documentation. This photography series by Sabekst and Kazewar bring some of the most illusive and underground artists to the forefront, literally writing their name in lights.