Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Just Becauzer, Atwa, Feral

Keys, Angr by Jurne


Steve Rotman… wow. I still can’t believe I managed to get this interview. This was such a nerve-racking day for me. But Rotman is such a calming individual that I managed to get through it all and have fun in the process.

Check out the second part of my interview to find out what Rotman had to say about the role of the internet and his perception of what makes graffiti beautiful. You won’t regret it.

What do you consider to be the real beauty behind street art and graffiti?

Good question. I’m very attracted to color and there’s something very vibrant about a lot of the graffiti that I photograph. Street art is a little different. I think at one level what’s really captivating about graffiti and street art to me is that it’s illegal, and that has all kinds of ramifications. There’s something very raw, something very… I don’t know… it’s hard to put into words. You know if someone decides they are going to break the law and the only reason they want to break the law is to put up their own art, there’s something very inspirational about that to me. You know they’re risking possibly going to jail so that maybe a few of their friends or a few other people will see their art. I’m very inspired by that whole idea. I like the idea of having art sort of randomly available for the public on the street. I think it’s a very cool thing. I enjoy it when I see it and so I wanted to kind of share my enjoyment of graffiti with others and that’s the reason I started doing the photo documentation. So your question: what is the real value of street art? I think the real value is that in a democratic, open, pluralistic urban environment, I think our visual landscape ought to contain something other than sanctioned art and advertisements. I think too often we walk around and the art we see on the street is just advertising or some other corporate kind of sloganeering or sanctioned public art that may or may not be good. What graffiti is, is a very raw, genuine expression by people who live in the city who are expressing themselves individualistically in very provocative ways, and that’s what I see as the real value.

What role do you see the internet playing in graffiti since it is such a short-lived form of art?

Well, that’s been very controversial. I think it’s a lot less controversial than it used to be because photo documentation of graffiti online has now been going on for over a decade. When it first started happening there were a lot of graffiti artists who complained bitterly about it and really hated it because prior to that graffiti was much more of a secret world that only graffiti artists and a few admirers really knew about. And if you wanted to see graffiti you had to go out on the street and find it. Now, that’s totally changed and if you go online and search for graffiti you find countless graffiti blogs, websites and on Flickr alone there are hundreds of thousands of graffiti photos from all over the world. So, things have very much changed, secrets have been exposed, and I think it’s kind of a mixed bag. I mean on one level online photos of graffiti allow someone from Croatia, say, to find the latest burner created by Apex here in San Francisco and get inspired by that and learn about it and that’s cool. On the other hand, graffiti artists continue to complain that people who look at graffiti online are sort of posers and are checking it out as a kind of fun hobby but never go out on the street and get the real feel of what graffiti is like and what the culture is like. And I have some sympathy for that argument. On the whole, it’s hard for me to complain on any level about posting photos online because I’ve spent the last seven years doing it so I obviously believe there is a value in spreading this art to a wider audience in that way. As I said, I get roughly seven to eight thousand hits a day on Flickr so people like to look at this material and I know a lot of graffiti artists like to look at the shots and they visit my Flickr and check it out every day. It’s funny. A lot of graffiti artists have an internal conflict going on about people like me and others who take photos of graffiti. On one hand they really want their graffiti to be seen—because one motivation for graffiti artists is the fame that goes along with painting graffiti and the fame comes from people seeing your work and admiring it. One of the ways that people see the work now is to go online—actually the main way people do that now is to go online. It’s no longer true that most people see your work on the street or in the location it was painted—they mainly see it online. That’s a big change and a lot of graffiti writers really love that; on the other hand, there are a lot of them who fear the consequences of having so much of their stuff seen online. There are legal consequences and the possibility of these “spots” I mentioned earlier being blown up. So if you publicize the location of a spot too much online, there is a possibility authorities will discover it and shut it down, or too many graffiti writers will try to come and paint it and go over good work that’s already there. There are a lot of these conflicts and controversies within the graffiti world. In general, I come down in favor of putting stuff online, and anyway I don’t think you can stop it. At this point it’s a done deal.

And what do you think about graffiti becoming more mainstream recently with certain artists becoming more famous and even developing clothing lines?

I think its fine. Any kind of art form that gets popular is going to have some commercial side to it. I’m very happy for the graffiti artists I know who have been able to make money off of their art. I’d much rather see them do commercial art that’s based on graffiti then going into some corporate setting and doing some graphic design that they hate. I don’t have a problem with it. You know at least here in the Bay Area, while I’ve been shooting graffiti, a lot of galleries have done graffiti-oriented exhibits and shows and generally the graffiti world embraces these shows and enjoys them. The art is good, people pay for the art and the gallery owners get something out of it, the graffiti artists are able to continue making the art they enjoy because they are getting money for doing it. Some of it’s really cheesy, the t-shirts are really cheesy but that’s America, that’s the way it goes.

If you weren’t photographing graffiti, what do you think you would be photographing today? What would be your new obsession?

Good question. Boy, I’ve been kind of wrestling with that question so it’s interesting that you asked that. I’m in kind of a lull photographically in the moment. I’m not shooting nearly as much graffiti as I used to. I think I’m going out maybe once every couple weeks these days. I don’t know. I used to love landscape photography for many years. Long before I shot graffiti I was a hobbyist landscape photographer and the Bay Area was a great place to do that type of photography; it’s such a beautiful area. I may go back to doing landscape photography, or I may take a little hiatus and not do much photography at all. I hopefully will find some new thing I’m passionate about. At the moment I’m trying to become a high school teacher so that’s kind of taking up a lot of my mental energy. I suspect that at some point I will get back to becoming passionate about photography but at the moment I need a little break and that’s what I’m doing.

Why the nickname “funkandjazz?”

Before I started shooting graffiti about 10, 11, 12 years ago, I used to post my landscape photos on a website called Renderosity. At the time I needed a name, an icon and an avatar and all that stuff. I was a jazz deejay for many years in a former life, and I’ve always been into funk and jazz very heavily so I randomly picked the name “funkandjazz” because that’s what I was listening to. That was on Renderosity and I just stuck with it. When I switched over to Flickr, I…. let me recall the sequence of this. Initially with graffiti I got involved with a site called 12ozProfit, which used to be the main online graffiti hangout for Bay Area artists, and at the time I needed a name there too and I wanted the name “funk,” sticking to the theme, but the spelling f-u-n-k was taken so I went with p-h-u-n-k and spelled it that way. So for years a lot of graffiti writers in the Bay Area knew me as “phunk,” p-h-u-n-k, they didn’t know my real name or anything about me. To this day, many of them still call me “phunk.” So when I switched to Flickr I was like “well I wanna keep ‘funk'” so I just I went with “funkandjazz” because I had been using it for so long—for like 10 years I’ve gone by “funkandjazz,” so that’s how people know me. They see me on the street and instead of calling me Steve they either say funk or f and j or something. So it’s kind of funny.

What is the most rewarding part about photographing graffiti throughout the city and the Bay Area?

You know there are a lot of rewarding things about it to me so I don’t know if I could really say what’s most rewarding. One thing is the adventure of finding the locations, getting to the locations and successfully getting in and out and the kind of underground adventure of that. And I’ve had so many adventures over the last seven years of getting in these various buildings and tunnels, so that’s—especially for a guy who’s approaching 50—I’ve felt that’s been keeping me young and active. Other than that I just really love the art, you know? So for me to be able to see this art—it’s like a free art gallery every day, you know? I mean if you’ve ever been to one of these locations where it’s just covered with graffiti or street art, it’s pretty exciting if you like art, especially if you like that kind of art. I mean you go there and it’s all yours for free and you get to look at it for as long as you want and take photos of it and hang out. For me, that’s really fun. And getting to know the community and getting involved in with the members of the street art graffiti world has also been extremely rewarding because the people are great.

Photos by Flickr user funkandjazz