Picture: Graffiti and reflection in standing water inside an abandoned building, Berkeley, California

Image: Graffiti reflection in standing water inside an abandoned building, Berkeley, California

While I continue to be very busy, I at least wanted to poke my head above water to let you know about something I recently had the fun opportunity to document. I spent a day on my own, wandering around an old 3-story abandoned building in Berkeley, documenting all the profuse graffiti which appeared on nearly every reachable surface. It turns out that the person who hired me is a patron of the arts, and hated to see some of the more impressive graffiti art fade into oblivion as the building was being readied for renovation. My job was to capture some of those more artistic presentations. While much graffiti we see in our daily lives is mere tagging by juveniles or gang members, some of the work in this building was definitely worthy of the title “Art.” I was honored to be asked to document these modernglyphics, and to preserve the work as Art.

I’ve photographed graffiti tourists have left in national parks, including carvings in sandstone next to Native American Pictographs. All of these, from Egyptian heiroglyphics, to gang tags in public restrooms, to tourists leaving “The Smith Family was here – 2006” in the Grand Canyon, all stem from the same inner desire; to leave some permanent remembrance of our own transient existence; something that says, “I was here.”

I suppose my rhetorical question after seeing all these variations would be, “at what point does something cross the line between being graffiti or visual pollution, to something of historical significance worth saving?” Let’s say you’re in Utah, when you spy a rock carved with the initials “RLP was here ’70.” What would you automatically think; “Dumb kids,” right? Would it make a difference if that rock graffiti was made by Robert LeRoy Parker back in 1870; a.k.a. a 14 year-old Butch Cassidy?

Image ID#: _Ba4_GRAF-0265

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6 Comments on “Modernglyphics”

  1. Richard Wong Says:

    I could be wrong but perhaps native americans did petroglyphs and Egyptians before them at a time when they didn’t have other types of medium to express visual and written arts? Since then we’ve had printed press, ink / paper / pencils / crayons, computers, internet. It’s not like tourists and taggers don’t have access to non-destructive forms of media to leave their “legacy” now.

  2. David Leland Hyde Says:

    Butch is nothing without Sundance, but his signature, well, ok, maybe that’s different than others’, maybe. Anyway, that’s the kind of image I like even better than a landscape. What a great assignment. I love photographing graffiti art. Remember what Simon and Garfunkel said in “Sounds of Silence”? “The words of the profits are written on the subway walls and tenement halls…”

  3. David Leland Hyde Says:

    I didn’t even see Richard’s comment. He does have a good point too, though I feel that a certain amount of rebellion and anarchy in art is important too.

  4. enlightphoto Says:


    Absolutely a great S&G quote. Thanks for that. Cheers!

  5. Greg Russell Says:

    This is a really cool image, Gary.

    I like the question you pose quite a bit, and its entirely possible that the rock art we see throughout the southwest, among other places, is indeed just ancient graffiti. Richard has a good point about modern technology, but I suppose that if history has shown us anything, boredom can get us into trouble. 😉

  6. linda sawaya Says:

    hi, as a photographer and painter, i am interested in your thoughts about the graffiti artist getting a portion of your sales of this print.

    a friend forwarded a link to your comments about copyright and the painter who did a less than remarkable job of copying your photo of el capitan. i understand your concerns about copyright and do respect copyright laws.

    but i am curious about the rights of the graffiti artist as you interpret them.

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