18 amazing images of graffiti, street art in NYC captured by Staten Island teen photographer

Charlotte Togba, Photographer/Writer

Editors Note: The author of this article is a Curtis High School student who participates in the Advance/SILive.com journalism e-mentorship program. She did the writing, research and photography for this piece.

From Washington Heights to the Bronx, graffiti made its debut all over New York City during the late ‘60s. Many would even go as far as saying that what is now a form of visual art was once referred to as a crime wave that hit the five boroughs.

Fab 5 Freddy, or Friendly Freddie, is the nickname of Fred Brathwaite, a well-known and talented artist who utilized graffiti as an art form when it first started in New York City. Graffiti was a prevalent form of vandalism both above ground on buildings and below ground — often overtaking the city’s subway cars and stations.

But, even back then, graffiti artists believed that their work deserved to be seen.

And today, what was once judged and considered intolerable has become a technique for artists to showcase their creativity and ability to think outside the box. In fact, in some instances, paintings on public spaces are commissioned by local organizations or city officials — and are now known as street art.

And it is this idea of artistry — whether through the self-expression of graffiti or the work for the masses encompassed via street art — that became the focus of my photography project for the Advance/SILive.com.

“Graffiti has always been viewed in a negative light, but in the last 10 years there has definitely been a shift. Buildings will give commission to graffiti/street artists to do larger-sized murals on the entire side of the building as an attempt to beautify the neighborhood. Street art is sometimes used as a tool to gentrify a neighborhood,” said a local graffiti artist, who requested to be identified as “C.”

Believe it or not, my photography project came alive in Room 129 of Curtis High School.

What started off as an assignment for my seventh-period photojournalism class led to me writing this article! I remember when my teacher, Cadence Turner, said to pick a topic and gather 25 pictures of whatever we wanted.

I chose to photograph graffiti all over Staten Island. I remember getting out of my mom’s car to take pictures of murals and hidden gems all over the borough on my way to school. It was a great experience. So when the Advance gave me the choice to produce a passion project for publication, I knew I wanted to expand my project on graffiti and street art.

Only this time, in a different borough.

So, like any teen would, I gathered three of my close friends and dragged them to Manhattan. Using my dad’s old Nikon D5000, I was able to capture the beautiful artwork of known and unknown artists who have decorated New York City with their creativity.

Through this project, I was able to see how murals and graffiti add to New York. From outstanding tags to culturally inspired murals, I was able to take in parts of what makes creativity such a beautiful thing.

It wasn’t until I collected these photographs that I realized that both graffiti and street art are beautiful — just like any other form of artistic expression. They combine big bold letters, stellar patterns and a wide variety of colors. The artists who share their work are phenomenal and are the reason this project could even be done.

Although my job within this project as a photographer is to spread cultural awareness of graffiti and street art, it is important to note that problems exist between the communities of street and graffiti artists.

This can be seen firsthand with the Chinatown Mural Project, which aims to bring back large-scale murals to the Chinatown area and beyond, according to the project’s website. The initiative is a collaboration between activist Karlin Chan and artist Peach Tao.

Recently, one of the pieces in the Chinatown Mural Project was tagged, which is when a signature, name or logo is written on a public surface. In this case, a graffiti tag was painted over the mural, defacing the art.

“It’s sad that street art and graffiti world can’t coexist without taggers attacking murals. Our murals reflect the cultural diversity, heritage and culture of the neighborhood where they are installed,” said Chan.

However, despite disappointment over the incident, those involved in the Chinatown Mural Project repainted the piece, restoring its original beauty.

Unique artwork is all over the streets of this city. When you have the time, look around for lucky finds and enjoy the beauty in sometimes unexpected places.

“Graffiti is an outlaw art. It’s a sport as well as an art,” explained “C.” “What one can develop from it determines if they are an artist or a vandal and, as all things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”