Jacobson, Malcolm: Collective photographic memories of ageing graffiti writers

The ephemeral character of graffiti has made photography an integral part of graffiti culture. Graffiti writing is reproduced on photographs that are diffused through social media and printed matter. Today graffiti is experienced through reproductions rather than by reading it directly from walls. Through this practice writers construct individual biographies and identities and a shared subcultural memory.

This paper investigates the material, social and emotional meanings of viewing and sharing photographs within a subculture. My micro sociological study stays close to the photographic practices of graffiti writers. Through ethnography and netnography I interpret performative elements of actors engaged in collecting, sharing and discussing photographs. My analysis shows how gestures carry meaning, and create situated knowledge within specific spatial contexts. The narratives constructed through photographic practices create social bonds between individuals and generations.

The actors in focus of my research are aging graffiti writers and I am interested in collective memory and subcultural performances concerning hopes for the future. Negotiations of collective memory are directed towards possible futures where middle age graffiti writers want their culture and history to be perceived as significant and valuable. But, since writers rarely want to disown the subversive and illegal aspects of graffiti the outcome and aims of their claim for recognition is uncertain. A general result is that investigated photographic practices seem to facilitate feelings of a shared past, of home and community in a social world facing a continuously risk of erasure. Along the photographic practices of graffiti writers I perform a reflective analysis of my own role as a professional photographer of subculture and how this informs my work as an ethnographer and subcultural theorist.