Graffiti is like a virus of the best kind. It resides deep in the heart and it makes its presence known in ways large and small. It travels from writer to writer around the world, bringing different handstyles, letterforms, color combinations, and placements to life. It is here today, gone tomorrow, one of the most ephemeral of all the arts.
Were it not for the photograph, some of the greatest masterpieces of graffiti would be unknown, and so it is with great fortune that Henry Chalfant began taking pictures of New York City trains between the years of 1977-1984. In total he amassed of 800 photographs of full trains from some of the greatest writers working during those years. “I have always been attracted to youthful rebellion and mischief,” Chalfant observes with a gentle laugh.
In order to photograph a full car when it arrived in the station, Chalfant stood on the platform on the opposite side, so that he could have enough distance to get 15-foot sections of the train inside his viewfinder. Using a 50mm lens, Chalfant took four or five photographs of each car, and then spliced them together using a razor and adhesive tape. As a sculptor, Chalfant’s hand was flawless, as he was able to translate the scale of each train to the photographic image. But the skill needed to get these shots? That was like stalking big game.
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