Hands Up – A Photo Essay

The tag. Who would think that a name written on a wall could draw so much anger and vitriol? While we might romanticise lovers names carved into trees or those historical inscriptions that capture a certain time or event, contemporary tags are rarely given such status, viewed almost primarily as an affront to order and ownership and a symbol of wasted youth.

The tag is the basis of graffiti culture, the building block on which all else follows and evolves. For many traditionalists a solid tag outweighs all, a good hand-style is a necessity. Rendered in marker or spray paint, with clean lines or messy drips, appearing legible or incomprehensible, the humble tag can be as complicated and complex as the people executing them.

Yet, the beauty of a tag is often overlooked. In their various states tags can exhibit chaos, urgency, care, thoughtfulness, anger, humour, defiance, opportunism, and immediacy; a carefully planned dance or an impulsive act of disruption. But, beyond these readings, a tag is importantly a reflection of action, even when the writer has vanished, the legacy of their stealth movement remains, evident in the little details. The sense of flow and energy reveal the dance-like performance. Unlike more developed designs, a linear tag is about efficient movement and a familiarity with the required physical exertion. Watching a sweetly executed tag come to life can be enthralling as it unfolds.

This photo essay, compiled largely from Otautahi but also featuring some images from around Aotearoa, is not a collection of the best hand-styles or tags (it is not my place to determine anything other than knowing what I like), instead it attempts to capture this diversity and the way that in certain environments and frames, these forms can be beguiling and intriguing, aesthetic and appreciated…

Are you a photographer (or you know someone who is)? Do you have an idea for an urban photo essay? We would love to hear from you and potentially feature your work here! Email hello@watchthisspace.org.nz and let’s talk!

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Street Treats, Vol. 6

It has been a while since our last Street Treats edition, in part due to the lock-down situation, but even as we all play catch up on the livelihoods that were put on hold, the streets were a fascinating site to explore with the range of expressions and interventions to be found. This volume of Street Treats features a cacophony of diverse forms, and rather than dealing with explicitly political messaging, they are affirmative and declarative and playful, inherently meaningful concepts in a time where it is easy to feel invisible and somewhat powerless. Graffiti is a strong presence, bursts of colourful existential expression, bound by certain conventions but constantly searching for ways to stand out. The examples here run the gamut of styles and modes of production (some are legal, others not so much), but importantly they speak to the game and represent both a here and now and the countless numbers that have come before, a lineage of urban commentary. The repetition of other, non-signature forms lives up to the concept of post-graffiti, like characters, pencils, flowers and rocket ships, these symbols are both as mysterious as calligraphic tags, and yet also familiar and therefore more approachable. They share the idea of proclamation in the public realm, but are perhaps satisfied with intrigue rather than alienation. Why do so many find it more challenging when someone boldly writes their name than the positioning of an iconographic proxy to do the same job? Is a name a more confrontational and confident vessel for expression? Regardless of your take, the effect is the same; the city speaks, quietly, loudly, in whispers or in defiantly boisterous screams…

Stay tuned for more Street Treats soon!

If you have any corrections for the credits above, let us know in the comments!

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