The Library

Subway Art

Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant
Thames & Hudson

This isn’t a new book, in fact it was published over 20 years ago, but it still remains one of the most important graffiti books there is. Two photographers, who were infinitely interested in the graffiti surrounding them in New York, met after they had both worked closely with artists separately and decided they wanted to pool their collective talent and experience into a book.

When you open the book, the first page you see is a double page spread of New York, a dull vision of grey and tall monotone buildings. But at the forefront, in complete opposition to the backdrop, is a subway train covered in graffiti. Vibrant yellows and blues blaze from the car and you know that these photographers have captured the exact reason of graffiti in that one frame.

The book itself features the writers who were prominent at the time and whose names are that of legend now – Skeme, Kase 2, Dez, Dondi, Seen, Iz The Wiz – and showcases their amazing talent, often with pages just of their work, not needing words to provide the message they’re trying to get across to the reader. It’s amazing to see how fresh and alive their art was in the late 70s and early 80s and see how it influenced the graffiti you see around you in 2006.

The end of the book features epitaphs for graffiti done by the artists after the Buff seemed to finally overthrow the writers on the subways, but one thing is clear when you reach the end of the book – Graffiti is not dead and never will be, and it is thanks to the amazing ability of these early writers that the art is as strong and forward thinking as it is now.

This book is a classic, if you don’t have it, shame on you. Go and make it right by picking it up as soon as you can.