If someone were to ask me what subject I like taking photos of the most, it would be things that are ugly. Sort of.
I find beauty in something when society–typically–finds that same subject ugly. I love junk yards. I love train yards. I love seedy back alleys. There are a lot of things to see in those areas. Just because it is dark and dingy doesn’t mean there can’t be beautiful things down there.
Take for instance, graffiti, it can be found almost anywhere! If you strip away the fact that a person has defaced private property, you are left with the art itself.
No one bats an eye when someone uses medium like a canvas to hold their oil paint on; that artist specifically chose that canvas because of its properties, just as a graffiti artist would choose the side of a building in a run down alley as their medium.
In Grand Forks, the graffiti is pretty low. Most of the graffiti I find in Grand Forks happens to be at the train yard but if you were to walk in the alley downtown behind Sanders, you will find a few pieces of spray painted work and my other favorite type of graffiti, wheat pastes.
There used to be a really awesome wheat paste work featuring Marilyn Haggerty with the word “Obey” underneath it. It was an homage to Shepard Fairey and his Andre The Giant “Obey” series. This was put up way before her 15 minutes of fame due to the Olive Garden fiasco, by the way.
I am sure you’ve seen Fairey’s work and not known it. In addition, there are a lot of 20-somethings who wear his “Obey Propaganda” line of clothing. This is ironic because the statement is in defiance of capitalism, not to mention they probably wouldn’t even know who Shepard Fairey is if you were to ask them. Enough of that soapbox.
The Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railway switchyard just South of campus has some great opportunities to see graffiti on the freight cars. There is a rolling exhibit right out of your back door and all you have to do is keep an eye open for it.
Here’s an interesting fact: there is a recent UND graduate living in the Twin Cities area who paints graffiti on freight cars. Since this BNSF line connects with that of Minneapolis, his work passes through quite a bit.
The other places that I like to visit that aren’t graffiti-related are junk yards and recycling areas. There is so much stuff to see there as long as you can keep your eyes open and watch for design elements like line, shape, color, and form.
One of my most favorite photographs came from a junkyard and every time I see it, I am still amazed at the capture. As I was setting up to take a photo of some rebar, a Blue Jay bird landed on the rebar and began to shake its feathers.
I could not have asked for a more perfect shot.