Digital Graffiti and I

What I call digital graffiti is a large portion of my photographic work. I write — with pens, pen brushes, pencils, on paper or even with software — my text or artwork and then superimpose it digitally onto pictures of walls or other urban decor.

If I look back at when, how and why I started, I see things evolving quite naturally from a well defined set of facts.

Because I work as a stock photographer, one of the very first things that I learnt is that if you want to sell the image of a street for usage in a commercial product — such as an ad — you cannot include in the picture somebody else’s work, for ethical and legal reasons (intellectual property, copyright). This leads to creative or technical challenges: avoiding billboards, well-recognisable cars, murals, and cloning out details with Photoshop. Therefore, some of the most obvious things that I cannot photograph is street art. Now… I appreciate that, in some parts of the world, graffiti are often an art form; however in Italy, more often than not, graffiti are just casually sprayed paint, i.e., vandalism; I cannot deny then that I was somehow frustrated that I cannot “appropriately” photograph stains of paint on old walls. In fact I’ve always been fascinated by the amazingly different and colourful shapes that are part of even the simplest parts of urban furniture: walls, bins, houses, rooftops, pavements, road signs…

I began experimenting with simple shapes or words; I liked the results, as well as the process of doing that, very much.

Sometimes I looked at a wall and the right words would pop-up in my mind but, more often, I have something in mind that I would like to write and I browse through my collection of unedited pictures for the right “background,” until I feel that a match is made. In fact, I have always been attracted by pieces of urban decor (shapes, colours, textures) but at the same time I felt that most of these images would hardly appeal a more general public perhaps because they were missing something. Combining pictures and artwork (“graffiti”) is often a way to complete, finish, “dignify” an image that would otherwise have a limited appeal and not work very well on its own.

Since I am a stock photographer, I choose stock concepts as my themes, but more often I use the walls to give vent to my own thoughts, hopes and frustrations, often in a satirical, ironic, funny way to reproach this or that aspect of the society.

COVID-19 is keeping many of us at home, me included. I am immunocompromised and must take special care: I am always indoors. My “digital graffitis” allow me to use old pictures that I shot outdoors when I could, together with recent thoughts that I can comfortably write from home. All this allows me to make the most out of the time with a workflow that is compatible with the current situation and that inspires me with pictures from outdoors that, even just a few days old in some cases, have already an aura of nostalgia because they refer to a substantially different situation.