Last week I spent lots of time watching graffiti artists paint during the City of Gold Urban Art Festival. I took tons of pictures and I’ve been struggling to figure out how to organize them, and also how to write about the festival more broadly. In the end, I just decided to pick my ten favorite shots from the week and explain each picture.

Most of these pictures depict graffiti pieces in progress rather than finished works, and some of the pictures aren’t really of graffiti pieces at all. I actually find graffiti quite challenging to photograph and the finished pieces — while beautiful — don’t always make the most interesting photos. I’m more interested in the stories around the graffiti’s creation and the environment in which it’s created.

With that said, here we go. (Note: I didn’t include any shots from the festival kickoff at the Absa building since I covered that in my previous post.)

1) Braamfontein graffiti tour

Braamfontein stride-by

I shot this on a Past Experience graffiti walking tour the day before the City of Gold festival started, at a wall on Smit Street that was actually repainted later in the week. Jozi tourists are falling in love with graffiti, as you can see from the expressions on these two women’s faces. If you’re interested in taking a graffiti walking tour, visit pastexperiences.co.za.

2. Solo One sticker

Solo tag

Solo One, a graffiti artist from London, is the most interesting person I met during this festival. Here he is getting started on his piece on Fawcus Street in Jeppestown, with his graffiti sticker in the foreground. Graffiti artists often use personalized stickers to quickly “tag” the areas where they visit and paint.

3. Solo One’s tire-jumping course.

Solo kids playing

Solo One is passionate about graffiti, but he seems even more passionate about making a positive impact in the communities where he paints. During the days I watched him, he spent more time doing art projects with the local kids than he did painting his wall. As you can see, the kids appreciated it. (I smudged out Solo’s face because I’m not sure he wants to appear online.)

4. Beautiful lady at Grayscale Gallery

Veronika lady

An amazing work in progress, by an artist called Veronika (in case you’re wondering, Veronika is a guy), outside the Grayscale Gallery in Braamfontein.

5. Alien girl.

Veronika2

Another Veronika work in progress, at the corner of Fawcus and Janie in Jeppestown. This one reminds me of a character from Avatar. I really dig Veronika’s stuff — my camera is drawn to it like a magnet. Although I must say that his bad-ass, Barbie-shaped ladies don’t do much for my own body image.

6. Blue elephants sniffing out a snack.

Blue elephants

Falko One painted graffiti elephants all over town during the festival. I love these elephants the most because they look like they’re about to steal some of the grilled fish off that table. I don’t blame them because it smelled delicious.

7. Graffiti stride-by.

Mars-Tyke stride-by

Graffiti is enhanced by the people who walk past it. This lady is walking past a mural in progress by Mars and Tyke on Janie Street in Jeppestown.

8. Zebra from the air

Mr Dheo zebra

Mr. Dheo, a graffiti artist from Portugal, shoots a photo of his just-completed piece on Gus Street in Jeppestown. The caption next to the zebra reads “Your soul is not for sale.” I love thinking about how many people over the years will turn the corner onto this street and look up at the screaming zebra in surprise. 

9. The Midas Touch

Midas Touch

“The Midas Touch,” by Bias, on Janie Street in Jeppestown. I am biased (pardon the pun), as Bias is my boyfriend, but this is my favorite piece in the festival. Not only because it’s spectacular and because it relates specifically to the City of Gold (read about the myth of King Midas), but also because I know exactly how much time and effort went into creating it. By the way, I highly recommend watching the YouTube video in the link at the top of the piece, as it will provide more context. I can’t say more or I’ll ruin the surprise. Here it is: http://tinyurl.com/biasmidas.

10. The artist

Ray with piece

An exhausted but happy graffiti writer. Graffiti is no joke, I tell you. It’s freaking hard. (Graffiti artists don’t normally like to be photographed but this one gives me special dispensation.)

Bonus shot: Gideon the Barber

Gideon small

As usual, I’m throwing one extra into my top-ten. All week, as I watched the guys paint, I also watched Gideon sitting in the shade on the corner of Fawcus and Janie Streets. Gideon runs a mobile barbershop (consisting of a bicycle, a stool, and some clippers), but I only saw him give one haircut the whole week — he says business is slow. On Friday I finally mustered the courage to ask Gideon for a photo. I took several portraits but this one, with Gideon holding the Polaroid that I shot and gave him on the spot, is my favorite.

Here’s to a great festival.  Keep an eye out for my upcoming feature about the City of Gold on jhblive.com.

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