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The Birth of Graffiti Paperback – 1 May 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Prestel (1 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3791337963
  • ISBN-13: 978-3791337968
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 24.1 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 665,386 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'The book is beautifully produced, with stunning photos and an authoritative introduction.''... a real treat for graffiti fans...''... an invaluable reference as well as a visual feast of great photography.'Total Tatoo, September 2007'... this book scores highly in the authenticity stakes...''The atmospheric shots... reveal a New York that's long gone...''...its simplicity and spontaneity (along with the massive afros) make you feel nostalgic for a more innocent time.'Grafik, August 2007

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sarah-Jane on 20 April 2009
Format: Paperback
I bought this book for my 19 year old son who is a 'graffiti artist'. I read it first and found it very informative and interesting. It focuses on young graffiti writers in New York in the 1970's. There are lots of lovely photos demonstrating their tags and art all over NYC. I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in graffiti. The morale of the story is that the original 'writers' moved on and became graphic designers, teachers, fashion designers etc...
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sheridan Flynn on 29 July 2007
Format: Paperback
A couple of weeks ago I was leafing through some of graffiti books in in a bookshop. Most of them looked pretty ok, mainly pictures of well manicured stencil spray can art. A lot of these images I have seen hundreds of times before in glossy mags and on TV. One book immediately caught my attention. It was this book, The Birth of Graffiti. I purchased it without hesitation.

John Naar treats his subject matter with complete dignity. Not only does he photograph the early forms of urban street art (and what we know now as graffiti), but he also documents the people and spirit behind it. His style is simple and beautiful. There are no sentimental or nostalgic streetscapes here. The exact era and locations are sometimes difficult to define, which leads to a timeless quality. It's great to see such gritty, clear, and honest creativity documented so well in these images. A truly fascinating book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 15 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
In The Jungle of Cities 9 July 2007
By Richard Behrens - Published on
Format: Paperback
Over a two week period in the winter of 1973, photographer Jon Naar and designer Mervyn Kurlansky journeyed about New York City, riding the subways, prowling the streets, scanning the walls of buildings to capture with a single lens reflex camera the growing phenomenon of inner city graffiti. A few dozen of these images, out of hundreds, was published as The Faith of Graffiti with an Introduction by Norman Mailer in 1974, and at the time the colorful and starkly beautiful images that appeared were current events. The controversial practice of graffiti writing was being hotly debated by the press and by politicians and was the bane of Mayor John Lindsay's administration. But Jon Naar's photographic approach to the tags and pieces that decorated the subway trains, buses and buildings of New York City was a work of photojournalism. He viewed his material with the eye of a true archivist, one who wanted to capture and document the growth of a phenomenon without judgment or politicizing. With Norman Mailer on board giving his own literary and artistic interpretation of graffiti, the book received great critical acclaim and became a classic in the genre, a much sought after photography book, but one that only contained a fraction of the images that Naar had assembled.
The Birth of Graffiti (Prestel Press, 2007) is Jon's first graffiti book in nearly 35 years and gives more reverence to his photographic art than Faith of Graffiti did. Limiting the text to a few short essays, the book emphasizes the images in a beautifully designed volume that presents many of the photographs uncropped and lovingly selected by the photographer.
What is stunning about The Birth of Graffiti, and indeed is inherent in the title of the book itself, is that many of these photographs have lain unpublished in protective storage for three and a half decades and are now important historical documents. What we are witnessing in these hauntingly beautiful images is a time locked period of history where New York City lay buried under a cosmetic layer of hieroglyphic writing that many praised as a powerful expression of the inner city imagination and others cursed as an urban blight at best and downright vandalism at worst. To anyone who lived in the city at that time, or even gazed with wide eyed fascination at the tags and pieces that decorated the buses, subway trains, storefronts and public monuments can approach this book with a sense of nostalgia and a memory of lost landscapes that once characterized New York.
Page after page brings us back to 1974 when New York was just a little less splashy than it is today, before Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump or Edward Koch, when it was still on a financial decline that in 1975-1976 almost brought it to bankruptcy. These photos show us a world that once was but is no more. Because graffiti was his subject, Jon Naar did not shoot around the tourist traps. We don't see Times Square or Lincoln Center or the grand brownstones of Brooklyn. Instead we are taken on a tour of forgotten walls and doorways, Spanish bodegas and tenement apartments, subway corridors and abandoned buildings, Harlem handball walls and Brooklyn boardwalks, the empty spaces of housing projects and school yards. If the graffiti was somehow airbrushed from these photos, they would still hold our fascination. They document the fine grained details of the landscape known by the few people who move through the images: the Spanish mother walking her daughter, the tired looking subway riders, the workers huddled in a doorway, a security guard taking a break by a utility exit. They go about their daily affairs with a fatigue and boredom that comes with any housing project or straphanger existence, walking past the urban sigils and tags and pieces and cryptic names and numbers as if they are just one more oppressive aspect of their city environment that they must endure from day to day.
But one must not neglect the writers themselves. When Naar and Kurlansky went off into the streets looking for graffiti, they had the good fortune of meeting, purely by chance, a gang of graffiti writers, young boys who ranged from ten to fourteen years old. Their group shot appear on the title page of The Birth of Graffiti and many more shots of them appear throughout, whether gathered together or posing separately in front of their tags. What I love about these shots is that rarely does Naar photograph them without some ghostly motion blur. These blurs give us a sense of the graffiti writer's energy who no doubt found it very difficult to stand still. As they write, the wall and the tag stays in clear focus while the writer is a whirling motion, connoting the artist in the instant moment of creation.
The writers were young, innocent, not the dangerous gang members that middle class New Yorkers feared were responsible for the defacements. They are multi-racial, black, white, Hispanic, mixed. They came out of their inner city neighborhoods via the subway, targeted the subway to "watch their names go by" and to carry their tags and their fame to the outer boroughs and beyond. In their lifetime, they would no doubt never be famous, never been known, always thought of as a statistic in some rich white writers sociological assessment of modern urban issues. But by putting their tags on a moving vehicle that will carry their names as far off as the northern Bronx, as far south as Sheephead's Bay, as far East as Jamaica Estates, they will be seen, their name will be known.
Jon Naar has given these artists expression, decades later, long after their names have been scrubbed from their surfaces, by showing these writers at work at the moment in history where they had seized the spotlight and forced us to recognize their existence. Like the Neolithic handprint that anthropologists found on an Australian cave wall, someone once spoke the words, "I am human. I was here. I am me. This is my name."
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Birth of Graffiti: A culture at it's best. 22 Nov. 2007
By J.SON - Published on
Format: Paperback
Birth of Graffiti could easily have been titled Faith of Graffiti 2. It is basically Faith of Graffiti with added photos from Jon Naar's archives. Some of these photos such as a The Man 550 piece and marker tags on long extinct subway vending machines bring me back to the days before a slew of talking heads with erroneous sociological and psychological theories started writing books explaining our culture. Mr. Naar's photos are striking and capture graffiti in the transitional period between tagging (single hits) and piecing. Many of the writers documented quit before piecing became the fashion , but the emphasis they put on handwriting style is more formidable than the signatures most writers throw up today. I watched this movement from birth to death on the NYC subways and was lucky enough to participate in it. Although not as visually dynamic as the work that came later, this period fascinates me more than any other. I grew up seeing the names featured in Naar's photos, wanting to meet them and follow in their footsteps. We all owe Jon Naar a debt of thanks for preserving the roots of an ever-changing culture. The book is a must have for any old-timers who want to re-live their glory days and neophytes who want to learn who the real pioneers of the culture were.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The Roots of Graffiti 24 Aug. 2007
By Graffiti Maven - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a really well done book - the photographs are incredible and the printing is perfect. Unlike many graffiti books, this one is very well laid out and is "arty." A very professional treatment of the rough edges of the first spray can art. If you lived in NYC in the 1970's this book will take you down memory lane. You will pick this book up time and time again.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
true art 5 July 2007
By Martin Gould - Published on
Format: Paperback
Graffiti is the 'new' Art form. The expression of a people. Just as we welcome instant foods, we welcome instant opinion on art, styles, etc. The book "The Birth of Graffiti" is as current as the Art giving us the immediate reaction of the people and their thoughts. The photographs are are as instant and provocative of our times and the young people involved in the the Art of our times. We welcome polls, opinions; and Jon Naar's book, his second on the subject, gives us the nature of our people; of our ideas that may reflect the truths that we hold. The freedom of expression, graphic, but sincere, gives us the sense of our country. And Jon Naar has created that world, giving us the picture of our times. It is Art in the present tense! Reading The Birth of Graffiti is an education.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
pictures ARE worth a thousand words...from the thoughts of us...the writers 11 April 2008
By Carlos Agudelo - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Birth of Graffiti...I will begin by saying that if you have an inner soul of graff...the curiosity of where it was conceived...of how it was back in the day...the day where you werent even thought of...THIS IS THE BOOK THAT SPEAKS TO YOU THROUGH VISION.

I have never seen a book where the images speak to you as strong as they do in this book...but that is maybe because I have a love for NY and its Graff.

I have a GREAT amount of respect for Naar, and I thank him for bringing us these images of art(as we see it). He did not have to give us this gift, but he did. And the best way you can thank him is by purchasing this book AND adding it to your personal collection, as I have.

The photography is amazing...the shots are unique...and you can tell that the subject of the book IS the begginings of graff...where it all lived up to the hype that we are know. I was born in '79 and arrived to the USA in ' I never lived the days of which NYC was NYC...where the walls spoke in MANY voices and many ages in many languages. I have caught a glimpse here and there, but never what I have now captured with this BEAUTIFUL book of NYC-a city I love and GRAFF-the form of art I love.

If you really desire to know what it was like back in the day-on the real-how NYC really was...not no postcard propoganda stuff...GET THIS BOOK.

GREAT BOOK...take it from a cat who's introduction to graff was back in '92 seeing all the Kez5-Bruz-MsMaggs-FLone-Ench throw-ups all over Queens...

Get the damn won't regret it.

NAAR...thanks man.
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