Just Passin Through...
Images of America’s train art and graffiti rolling through Columbia, S.C.
by Frank Heflin
Train writing. Call it art, call it graffiti - these messages on a bottle crisscross North America by the thousands, a mobile menagerie of insults, strange beings, personal signatures, poems, political piths, and social commentary. They are America’s public folk art on wheels, a self-renewing gallery set loose to roam the rails. They are counter-culture statements, spoken by spray can in secret, a quiet defiance. Many of the rail yard crews collect their favorites on cell phones. Rail managers often hang them in their offices or homes. I started photographing train graffiti several years ago after watching Style Wars, a film documenting the New York subway writers and hip hop scene of the 1980s. As they roll past I get two seconds - perhaps three - to shoot them. Seldom will I see them again. Each one is destined to be buffed by the sandblaster or paint gun. For me, they are a breath of fresh air brightening a culture where - for most - art is an afterthought, and public art has no standing.
My favorite photography haunt is the street, people in the moment, street art & graffiti. I spend most of my shooting time around train tracks, fire barrels, coffee shop street tables, or simply wandering. If I am in a large city I am looking for great faces, or street art with a message. I have two cameras - a Leica M6 and a Canon 5D. I like to give away prints to the people I shoot. I carry a pack of them in the car in case run across people I've shot. People don't handle prints much any more, since images usually stay on a phone or computer. I notice people really like the visceral sensation of holding the image. My day job is running a large hospital-base home health agency. This is community care, a non-profit, & the people we take care of need our help. Shameless plug: check out my Etsy store at etsy.com/shop/KultureJam & my web site at KultureJam.org. You'll find lots street shots, train graffiti, street graffiti, animations, my blog, & lots of liberal politics. Cheers, Frank