Photographers' Blog

Spray Cans and Euros – Graffiti at the European Central Bank

Frankfurt am Main, Germany

By Kai Pfaffenbach

“Is this legal?”

That was the question I asked myself almost two years ago, when I was walking along the embankment of the River Main in Frankfurt and saw the fence around the new European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters construction site.

Huge works of graffiti were scrawled on the wooden boards. It looked quite professional but I wondered if the ECB had agreed to allow these paintings since their content was both critical and politically provocative.

I got the answer to my question from 36-year-old, Frankfurt-based artist Justus Becker, also known as COR, who both paints some of the graffiti and helps curate it.

“This is legal,” he told me with a smile, explaining that the ECB had allowed it to go ahead and even paid for the boards when the art project was first established. Now they are part of a public space, where artists are allowed to share their works of graffiti.

Justus and his friend “Bobby Borderline” let me join them as they worked on a new painting for their latest three-day art project.

Circus of the Alley

Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Nacho Doce

A few days ago I ran into Brazilian muralist Kobra in the Sao Paulo neighborhood of Vila Madalena. He told me that in that same city square where we were standing in front of his graffiti, jugglers gather every Monday night.

GALLERY: SCENES FROM THE CIRCUS

So the following Monday I headed to the square at around sunset, and found them exactly as Kobra had told me – a group of jugglers in the middle of the square surrounded by and covered with graffiti. Before I even took out my camera I asked one of them if he expected more to arrive. “Uyy,” he answered. “In about an hour this place will be packed.”

I was about to experience what’s known as the Circo do Beco, or Circus of the Alley.

Painting a favela

By Nacho Doce

Before I was able to experience a Sao Paulo favela firsthand, my knowledge of that world was mostly defined by a movie I saw only a few weeks earlier called “Linha de Passe,” or “Passing Line” in English. The title is a metaphor of the concept of teamwork, the imaginary line that connects players passing the ball in soccer. In the movie the players are the four brothers of a family, and the ball is life itself. What I took away from the movie about a slum family’s struggle to survive, was an idea of what it’s like to live on the edge of life, on the edge of a precipice.

That movie and a newspaper article about a social graffiti project in one of the city’s largest favelas ignited my curiosity, so I searched out and met founding members of the project named OPNI, a Portuguese acronym for “Unidentified Graffiti Artists.” OPNI was founded in 1997 by 20 youths in the city’s marginal slums with the goal of transforming the streets into an open-air gallery where the community can express its gripes. Of the original 20 only Cris, Val and Toddy are left after most were either arrested, abandoned the activity, or died from drug abuse.

To reach OPNI in the Vila Flavia favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo took me two hours by bus and train, the same time it takes for many of the slum’s mothers and daughters to travel to the city’s better-off neighborhoods where they clean homes for a living. That’s a four-hour round trip, every day.