'Streets are Never a Blank Canvas'

This essay from <em>Pop Matters</em> explores the connection between street art and urbanism.
April 12, 2011, 8am PDT | Nate Berg
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Author David Ensminger talks about his work as a photographer, and the city as his subject.

"Some days, this means witnessing desperation that simmers just below the not-so-Teflon surface, and sometimes this means observing the naked language of the city: people making their own homegrown street media and pursuing art (at times on accident) in the middle of stifling humidity and doldrums days. Locally, my own Houston neighborhood mixes modest bungalows from the ‘30s with streamlined, stretched out condos that make gentrification appear like a vacuous suburban dream of inner city resurrection. The streets are never a blank canvas.

I discover an indigent kind of poetry: mushrooms oozing from a chopped off tree; rain water finding its way to broken tile street corners; murals meditating in front of piles of cookout pit ash and melon rinds in parks just meters away from a freeway; homemade print outs asking for help finding missing dogs stapled to electric poles above puddles with dragonflies zipping by; and a profusion of flyers, stencils, graffiti, stickers, and vernacular art environments. I am not a professional photographer, nor do I pretend to wield any pretensions about a digital camera I barely know how to cradle. Stop, witness, and push a button. That's my resolve, my habit.

My pictures of street life reveal multiple sides below the radar of ozone city life. One side reveals homegrown businesses with some grit trying to survive the new economy by hammering out their promotion with folk art tendencies by making their own signage, while another unveils officially sponsored graffiti and murals thriving in communities often unnoticed but blasting their messages of survival, unity and hope, anyway."

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Published on Monday, April 11, 2011 in Pop Matters
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