Thursday, January 19, 2017

Graffiti - Art on the Move

Love it or hate it, graffiti is a part of every modern day railfan's adventures trackside.  Although highly illegal (taggers who are caught can face fines and jail time) it occurs in nearly every corner of the continent and on many different surfaces and locations.  Railroad cars are popular among taggers as there is a seemingly endless supply of 'canvases' and the works are seen across many geographic regions.  Although not formally accepted as art by a vast majority of professional artists, many examples of graffiti exist that can make the argument to be considered as art while many more examples exist proving that graffiti shouldn't taken seriously and thus be discouraged. Even if a particular piece of graffiti seems artistically acceptable, federal laws govern the display of data and numbering on freight cars and if covered up in any way the railroads can be hit with heavy fines, hence the strict prosecution of known taggers and graffiti artists who claim to see no harm in adding color to otherwise dull railroad equipment.

Take for instance this sample I photographed in Salt Lake City, UT on 8/4/16.  It is typically known as a moniker and this one is a simple drawing of a person with the words 'A mind that wanders'.  What is its meaning?  Depending on who reads it, it could be anything.

Monikers derived from the steam era practice of carmen and trainmen who would mark information about cars on their sides with chalk (destination, load, physical defects, etc.).  Hobos picked up the style and began leaving their marks as well, "signatures" to show where they had been.  Hobos even took the practice a step further and created a code that told fellow 'travelers' what to expect on their journey.  They are unique, reflective, and generally unobtrusive. Their exact opposite are the more common and flashy gang symbols that smother many cars with competing tags.

Here is a unique sample found at Peterson Industrial Depot in Tooele, UT on 9/6/16.  Judging by the lettering style, it was likely tagged by a gang.  Look at the attention to detail in the lettering and in the shading/highlighting.

Here is an example of 'turf tagging'  Photographed at Echo, UT on 9/28/16

This ethanol tank has also fallen victim to the turf wars of some inner city.  (Jacob Lyman photo)

This car has a rather large painting of what is likely the abbreviation of a gang name.  This type of tagging can be used to advertise a particular groups presence or even used to mark territory.  Photographed at the Weber River Bridge near Croydon, UT on 9/28/16.

Jacob Lyman found this elaborate graffiti on an SP boxcar in Salt Lake City's North Yard in September 2016.  Many jokes about "the hype train" ensued.  (Jacob Lyman photo)

One can only speculate what the meaning of this particular specimen is, but you have to give credit for creativity using nothing more than a few spray cans.  Photographed at Weber River Bridge near Croydon, UT on 9/28/16.

In this photo, we see a string of boxcars and nearly everyone has graffiti visible on it.  This is how bad the problem is becoming on a much smaller scale.  Photographed Salt Lake City, UT on 8/1/16

This CP Rail auto rack has an assortment of tags on it, including one that would suggest an identity crisis.  Note the tagging around the red panel on the side of the car as well as the attention to detail in the design of the lettering on the bottom of the car.  (Schon Norris photo)

Detail of that red panel (from a Jacob Lyman photo)

This Union Pacific reefer was another one of Jacob's strange graffiti catches in September 2016. (Jacob Lyman photo)

Another example of the variety of colors that can be seen is found on this hopper, taken by Schon on 9/10/16.  (Schon Norris photo)

Occasionally, a tagger will take up a freight car and leave a creation that truly can be admired.  Something I spotted in Wendover, UT on the 16th of January this year really caught my eye and I had to stop and grab a picture of it.  Yes, it's graffiti.  No, I don't condone it.  But, I can appreciate the effort to create it.  There is true skill in the work that was put into this and I admire the craftsmanship.

Not even locomotives are immune to the taggers spray can.  See this example of a Union Pacific GP60 taken by Schon Norris on 9/10/16.

So, whenever you are sitting trackside waiting on the next train, or sitting at a grade crossing waiting for the train to pass, keep your eyes peeled for some this art on the move...

(Graffiti - Art on the Move is the first truly collaborative effort of the Desert Empire Project.  Credit for this post goes to Josh Bernhard, Jacob Lyman, Schon Norris, and myself.  Many thanks to these fine gentlemen for their assistance on this post.)

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