The Diaries of the Mundane – A Photo Essay by Sofiya Romanenko

I first came across Sofiya Romanenko’s photography at the exhibition More – The Show, a group show of local female artists held at the Boxed Quarter. I was immediately struck by her recognition of the beauty found in the urban mundane; a bundle of stacked shopping trolleys forming a striking geometric huddle with horizontal and vertical lines transforming the everyday and overlooked into an object of interest. Having moved to Ōtautahi Christchurch from Moscow, Russia, Sofiya’s photographs are not simply a record of a universal urbanity, but a process of coming to know one’s surroundings, grappling with the unknown and jarring elements of a city that is constantly shifting as it sets about re-asserting its identity. The Diaries of the Mundane display an undefined poignancy, still moments of reflective observation, we stand on the threshold, looking in and yet a step away…  


The Diaries of the Mundane

I moved to Christchurch from Moscow, Russia almost five years ago, but until very recently our relationship could be described with a very specific image of a curtsy nod, accompanied by an awkward tight-lipped smile that strangers here give each other upon accidentally locking eyes in a public setting. Not that I knew Moscow any better, but that’s simply because I was acquainted with it just enough to not want to delve any deeper. Christchurch though – it has proved a whole other story.

It’s taken me a while to “get it”. To embrace the unsightly, the uncomfortable, the ugly. To recognize the potential behind each broken window, rusty fence, deformed road cone. To take in the rugged textures, clashing colours, confronting details. To finally start relating to it all. It happened at a time of great uncertainty in my life, when lone walks through dingy alleyways and railway tracks became a mental escape from the dreaded shadow of the future, side-eyeing me from each corner and gnashing its teeth in anticipation of swallowing me whole. It was around the same time I started revisiting my old hobbies, trying to reconnect with the “self” I had seemingly lost somewhere along the way of springing into adulthood, and a long-forgotten but quickly remembered skill in film photography came about as the perfect accompaniment to my wandering antics.

Christchurch and I still have a long way to go – for instance, I can’t learn its layout to save my life. But we get closer each time I capture yet another beautifully mundane part of its day-to-day as an ongoing diary of the city’s ever-changing nature. Eventually, all of what I photograph will disappear; replaced by shiny new malls, painted over for the sake of uniformity, gentrified to appease the upper class – all of it will be wiped out without a shred of doubt, the eyesores finally gone. But it will forever remain on film as a comforting reminder that nothing is ever truly gone as long as you’ve got some lonesome lunatics running around with old school cameras taking photos of literal trash.

To see more of Sofiya’s photography, follow her on Instagram: @chchasti

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Photo Essay – Urban Textures

Urban art is heightened and exaggerated by the environment in which it exists. Over time, the urban environment becomes layered with the remnants of its ongoing subversion and alteration. Graffiti adds to the cacophony of visual noise, while peeling paste ups echo the pervasive deterioration of worn surfaces. Stickers expose the multiple potentials of surfaces.

Urban Textures takes a closer look at the often ignored details that add to the fascination of our surroundings. The collected images skip between dense fields of graffiti, worn concrete, blocks of ‘buff’ paint, and peeling paper, but always with an eye on the textural surfaces that give ground to such layers. While the shiny and new garner the attention, here the focus is firmly on the broken, busted, worn and deformed, because, sometimes, beautiful is boring and the lived is more intriguing.

 

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Photo Essay: P.K. – There and Back

When P.K. told us how he compiled his photo essay, it was typically understated: “I pretty much just got a camper van real cheap with one of those post lock down deals, and thought it would be cool to document what I saw on the trip.” While the process of gathering the photographic collection may have been simple, the resulting images are striking.

Although graffiti forms the thread running through the images, the tags and throwies and pieces are not surrounded by a bustling metropolis as is so often the case. Instead they are captured in a still quietude within small towns and secluded rural areas, and notably the concrete undersides of bridges and highways that suggest such spaces are not intended for stopping, but for bypassing quickly. That stillness, not embraced by the majority of the shooting traffic, is captivating, exacerbated by that unique washed out South Island light. The stillness is also amplified by the sense of slight distance, the photographer ever so slightly removed from the scene. The worn concrete and the varying states of the graffiti, from fresh to faded, further adds an emotional quality, a suggestion of isolation and exposure. Of course, P.K. would probably shirk such readings, yet his ability to compose photographs that are both documentary and evocatively layered is undeniable.

While P.K. may have simply ‘hit the road’ in something of a kiwi tradition, the images with which he returned form a subtly unnerving and strangely resonant collection that seemingly says something without the need for hyperbole…

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Photo Essay: Responding to the Gentrification of Street Art – Befaaany

For the latest entry in our photo essay series, we reached out to Befaaany, a Christchurch photographer whose work showcases the urban and concrete landscapes of the city. After being impressed with her striking pictures on Instagram, we knew she would be a perfect fit. Befaaany’s response was a beautiful collection of black and white images that run the gamut of urban expression, small stickers, bold graffiti, abstract paintings produced in perilous environments and the ephemera of a eradicated presence. In compiling these photographs, Befaaany is able to highlight the issue of street art’s gentrification and mainstream popularity, a process that has in many ways clouded our recognition of street art’s subversive and disruptive potential…  

 

Local street artists are constantly finding new ways to create art in a city filled with council-funded installations from international artists. These have included challenging gentrification of graffiti directly, blurring the lines of ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ street art, disguising their art into the city, and  leaning into the temporary nature of their art form. – Befaaany

 

Follow Befaaany on Instagram to see more of her amazing work…

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Photo Essay – ‘We All Love Stickers’ by Teeth Like Screwdrivers

Stickers perhaps have the broadest reach of any form of urban art, ranging from handmade to commercially produced, and extending from branding to political to purely aesthetic. Anyone can make a slap and anyone can apply a sticker, increasing their ubiquity in our urban environments. When we need to know anything about stickers, our go-to is Teeth Like Screwdrivers, sticker maven and founder of SlapCity. When we invited him to compile a photo essay, it was always going to be a collection of stickers, but what we didn’t realise was how wide-reaching his iconic pencil slaps have become…

We all love stickers. 

From our childhood visits to the dentist, the skate shop, our international luggage or even a daily piece of fruit, stickers are part of our everyday life. For me it started when gazing into the cabinet of my local skate shop and spending what seemed like hours, and all my change, deciding which sticker I wanted. Then after buying ‘The One’, the agonising decision of how and where to stick it would follow. It probably only lasted one session before being destroyed, but that wasn’t the point.

Stickers are simple in every way. They may be the quiet, annoying, street art step-brother to graffiti, stencils and paste-ups, but their simplicity is undeniably appealing.

Stickers are cheap (or better still, free!). They are clean, discreet and you can make them by the hundreds. They fit into your pocket, they are visually compact and can be slapped up with the sleight of hand, quickly and in large numbers. This is their appeal.

Repetition works, and stickers are a perfect medium to demonstrate this principle. As long as stickers are being put up faster than they weather or are cleaned, they are accumulating. – Shepard Fairey

Stickers are the perfect medium for characters, typography, graffiti, illustrations, tags, politics or personal messages. Sometimes a sticker is just made to disrupt your eyeline, hidden in plain sight, fighting against the blandness of the modern cityscape, making passers-by search for a hidden meaning. Stickers are also temporary; the elements and scrapers making short work of their papery fragility.

The sticker family is a close-knit, friendly one. Sticker art started local; getting out and slapping up your own, spotting and recognising other’s work. Packs started being posted internationally; traded, swapped and collected. Now it is easy to get your stuff up in places you would never visit alongside artists you will never meet. You are able to collaborate on pieces and put up combos from artists from all over the world in your hometown. Stickers have made it into galleries and sticker-specific art shows continue to multiply.

I love stickers, we all love stickers..

-TLS

A collection of stickers on a lamppost in Christchurch
Christchurch, 2020. @vez_streetart
An array of stickers on a street sign in Brazil
Brazil, 2019. @k421666
A collection of stickers from the exhibition Characters Welcome
‘Characters Welcome’ Art Show, Philadelphia, 2019. @characters_welcome
A collection of stickers in Christchurch
Christchurch, 2019. @teethlikescrewdrivers
Stickers on a STOP sign in Christchurch
Christchurch, 2020. @teethlikescrewdrivers
Stickers on a lamppost near the graffitied railway tracks in Christchurch
Christchurch, 2020. @vez_streetart
Stickers on a graffitied wall in Dunedin
Dunedin, 2020. @slapsnpastesdn
Stickers cover the reverse of a street sign in Hamburg
Hamburg, 2020. @spaemspaem
Stickers in an urban environment in Hamburg
Hamburg, 2020. @spaemspaem
A board covered in stickers in Brazil
Nosso Trampo, Brazil, 2019. @vanguarda034
A collection of stickers in Canada
Ottawa, 2019. @trp613
Stickers on the freverse of a sign overlooking the ocean in Spain
Spain, 2020. @sympa_1
A sticker exhibition in Belgium
Stickupexpo, Belgium. @mind_and_makerspace
A wall covered in stickers at a sticker fest.
STKR FST4, Sweden. @regelverk
Stickers on a post outside a store in Christchurch
Christchurch, 2019. @teethlikescrewdrivers

Follow Teeth Like Screwdrivers on Instagram or check out www.teethlikescrewdrivers.com to see more slaps and to be part of the SlapCity events!

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Photo Essay – ‘Arcane Connection’ by Josh Bradshaw

Josh Bradshaw’s Arcane Connection is the second in our series of photo essays, and for the man occasionally known as Uncle Harold, it is, at first glance, something of a departure. This series of photographs signifies Bradshaw’s exploration of a range of new artistic and creative directions, visually distinct and yet still connected to the established body of work produced under his well-known pseudonym.

For the artist, the similarities are both apparent, yet hard to define. Josh explains his struggle to define his expanding approaches: “I often find myself tripping over my words and struggling to make sense when explaining anything about my work or why I make it to anyone. It’s all the same thing to me, my photos, my paintings, my writings, my drawings, they are all the same. It’s all very obvious in my head, although I’m not sure many others would think the same.” However, despite his dismissive shoulder shrug, the connection between Bradshaw’s wider body of work becomes apparent through reflection.

The images collected for Arcane Connection are not just a survey of urban experience and immersion, they also reveal a deeper consideration. As Uncle Harold, Bradshaw has constantly transformed the ordinary, melting familiar icons and objects and forcing us to reconsider our attachment to the mundane. These images similarly explore the overlooked. Not only does Bradshaw re-contextualise the functional aspects of the urban landscape through a stark black and white geometry, he also reveals his interest in their suggestion of connectivity, movement and exploration. By repetitively documenting the ‘urban white noise’ of human constructions such as pipes, vents, drains, hurricane fencing and architectural forms, Bradshaw attempts to make sense of his surroundings and our increasing disconnect in the digital age. Arcane Connection is an invitation to do the same…

A black and white photograph of a group of pipes running across a concrete surface.

A black and white photograph of a pipe emerging from a wall with a metal grill surrounding it.

A black and white photograph of a group of pipes creating a grid effect against a wall.

A black and white photograph of a group of pipes running across a wall, the pipes and the wall have been painted in a dark tone.

A black and white photograph of a power box fixture and drain pipes on a dark wall

A black and white photograph of a single drain pipe and vents

A black and white photograph of a concrete wall and drain pipe

A black and white photograph of a water system on a white wall

A black and white photograph of a pipe emerging from a cavity in a wall

A close up black and white photograph of a metal pipe

A black and white photograph of a metal pipe

A black and white photograph of plastic piping

A black and white photograph of pipes running into a drain

A black and white photograph of criss-crossing pipes emerging from a tiled wall

A black and white photograph of a worn wall with pipes and a vent

All photos are credited to Josh Bradshaw

Thanks to Jessie Rawcliffe for her help on this piece!

Follow Josh on Instagram: @joshuamarkbradshaw

 

 

 

 

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For the Love of… Doors

This snapshot ‘photo essay’ of doors from across the city is the first of a series of articles that will be presented by various contributors, exploring their fascinations with urban art and the urban terrain. From doors to ‘bandos’, tags to slaps, the buff to responses to official communication, many people with an ear to the ground find interest in the smaller, peripheral incarnations of urban space. This series, titled ‘For the Love of…’ will reveal these quirks, letting the images talk over words…

I have long been fascinated with the city’s deteriorated and graffiti-covered doors. In the post-quake landscape and beyond, such doors have provided a symbolic quality, exacerbating the raft of aesthetic appearances. Much like fences, they provide a conflation of ideology and physicality. As passages between spaces, they are portals and obstacles, but also flat, defined surfaces that are perfect to be adorned. The humanity of doors as passages is also evidenced by the tags, throw-ups, stickers and characters that represent the presence of those executing them, as if these invaders have been kept at bay, yet defiantly left their mark regardless, like a calling card. In other cases they have been left covered in paint while the surrounding walls have been whitewashed, creating an intriguing juxtaposition. You may simply see a door as a functional element of architecture, but for me, they are infinitely more interesting…

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