Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tresspassing, Graffiti, and Pissing San Francisco Off

I am generally quite law abiding. I think I've mentioned before that I occasionally talk on the cell phone while driving. This is illegal in California, but I just can't help it, and I think it's a stupid law. Though originally I was a cell phone hater, I've turned into what I abhor, and now I'm a cell phone addict. I guess we can hate our addictions, so it's one of those lived contradictions. I have been known to break the speed limit, and I am a notorious jaywalker. I wouldn't be from the Bay Area if I obeyed the zebras. I even work in law enforcement, as much as I don't define my career that way.

But the truth is, I often spend my free time breaking the law. And enjoying it. My guilty pleasure is trespassing. There is almost nothing I like more than taking photographs of abandoned stuff. The problem is, with the exception of sofa frees, which are almost always on the sidewalk (i.e. public property), most abandoned things are marked as "private property" or "no trespassing" or "trespassers will be prosecuted" or "restricted area." Well, shit. I prefer "urban explorer" to "trespasser," but in the eyes of the law, I'm sure the term is "criminal." Some of my favorite places to explore (Skaggs Island, parts of Treasure Island, Mare Island, the Alameda Naval Base, and decidedly all of the Dogpatch) are off limits. I've been shooed away gently and less gently, but so far have evaded capture. I'm not sure how long this can go on. And what would happen if I was captured... Life on a desert island? In a prison cell? Destruction of my camera? Honestly, I prefer to believe that those signs are put there for my safety, or the safety of fools who aren't careful with their safety. Small children should not be playing in abandoned buildings, so the owners of these buildings should probably cover their asses. Smart move! But me, I'm careful, and all I do is walk around, avoid glass, and take some pictures. The sign posters don't really mean me, right?

Graffiti poses a similar problem. I've been taking pictures of graffiti for as long as I've been taking pictures. My grandpa gave me his Canon AE-1 and I used to go shoot train layups (benching), and any walls I could find. I did this in Oakland, Berkeley, Connecticut, and points in between. I love graff- good graff- and see it as art. I've had fights with my aunt, and converted my parents, who even had a young graff artist paint their wall, about the merits of graffiti. I collect graff books and used to hunt magazines in bookstores and on eBay. I still get a little trill in my heart when I see a graff book in a store that I have never seen before. I can't help checking the art section for these books. But graff, well, it's just not legal. Most people hate it. They consider it urban blight and part of the reason Oakland and other cities suck. I don't DO graffiti (I'm not that talented or that law-breaking), but I appreciate it. I feel that good graffiti, not gang tags, which are totally different, actually make a city more beautiful. Urban areas can be totally boring and ugly and banal. How many times can you see McDonald's billboards and Starbucks signs and gas stations? The fun of looking for GATS tags and being surprised by a wall full of color is way more exciting, novel, and artistic. Street art changes over time, and is creative and unique. And totally not legal. I can chase it all I want, but it often brings me into areas I'm not really supposed to be in, since graffiti artists are often pushed into areas they're not really supposed to be in, since the city streets are difficult to paint. Train tunnels, back alleys, fenced off areas- there we go with the trespassing again.

Lately, I have been involved in pissing off the city of San Francisco. It was accidental, I swear. I just like to have fun, and to take pictures of other people having fun. It all started with Bring Your Own Big Wheel. Little did I know that being a grownup could be so much fun. I mean, I know I'm not a normal grownup, but I didn't know there were other abnormal grownups who like to behave like children out there. Well, there's shittons of them, apparently, and I began to seek them out. I like to have fun, and I like to watch people having fun, and I like to take pictures of them having fun. Fast forward to the pillow fight on Valentine's Day, which was also amazingly fun. Who knew so many grownups could make so many feathers? And who knew San Francisco would be so mad? Feathers WERE everywhere, it's true. When we got to the BART station, there they were. They were even on the train. I thought it was hilarious, and kind of sweet. Apparently, SF thought it was annoying and expensive. Well, crap. There I go with the outlaw stuff again.

I talked about it with a friend last night, and bottom line, I think it comes down to the fact that I'm a photo-fun-communist. I believe that property should be shared: if no one's living or using a building (i.e. it's abandoned), it should be fair game to take pictures of. "No Trespassing" signs are somewhat appropriate- I don't want anyone to get hurt either, but really, prosecuting people is really quite awful and unnecessary. The Navy doesn't need those bases anymore, and they've totally cleaned out those buildings of anything classified. It's not going to hurt anything if I take pictures of the faucets that don't work anymore. And likewise with graffiti. It would be totally awful if someone threw up a piece on someones house or small business, but on the backside of a business in an alley? or a light post? or parking meter? or train car? Why the hell not? Blank space is getting beautified, and colorful, and our lives are more interesting this way. Respectful street art is beneficial to everyone. Way better than commercial alternatives. Lastly, people should have fun. There is war all over the world. The economy sucks. People are dying, fighting, starving, etc. Let them have good, free, clean fun. Big wheels? Pies in the face? Pillows? Why not! We make friends, we laugh, we generally get our spirits lifted. Stop being grouchy, lighten up a little, and join in- you might feel better. I know I do when I have fun, and I'm generally slightly uptight.

I promise not to talk on the cell phone while driving and to attempt to abide by the speed limit if the "No Trespassing" signs come down, the Bay Area lightens up on graff, and flashmobs are allowed to continue.

yours,
lawenforcing, lawbreaking themacinator

6 comments:

Mick O said...

99 kudos for this thoughtful post. Public use of space will continue to grow as an issue facing our communities - owning property is one thing but when it intersects with the community, there are issues our system is far from solving.

Meera said...

So where are all the trespassed pictures? Is it on your Flickr? I peeked at your lensbaby stuff - this is my latest "I wants" lens, but I know there is really no justification to own one. They produce really cool focal planes for portraits!

themacinator said...

meera- check out the links i posted to the various places (TI, MI, dogpatch, etc. they're there). i haven't posted nearly as many as i've taken- there are 100s more, but that's generally true of how i shoot- i take 1000s and post 1.

what camera do you have- i'd be happy to lend you my LB if it fits your camera, or trade you for soemthing. i barely use it.

ms trouble said...

Well it sounds like we enjoy many of the same activities/photo subjects. And I live in the Dogpatch. So maybe one day we'll meet. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy your photos and blog.

THB said...

Hey, current NY'er has blurb about a guy named Joseph Rivera, ex-NYPD assigned to thwarting graffiti on NY subways, he pub'd a book called Vandal Squad, and now goes out and does speaking with g-artists...

Meera said...

d-oh. Never thought to click on the links :) The curse of taking 1000 pictures - sometimes I get overwhelmed and decide not to post anything.

I have a Nikon D90 - I'm pretty sure the mount on your lens is different (Canon specific?) or I would have loved to explore a way to short-term borrow it!