Graffiti in lost places

"Graffiti doesn't exist unless someone got a photo, because it's gone immediately" ~ Jeffrey Deitch

By In Photography

Graffiti, I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. I love what street artists can create, but I’ve had numerous occasions where I hated it so much! How come?


On many occasions, as I visited lost places, they just ruined my shot. My idea of what a perfect lost place photograph should look like. For me, I loved man-made structures in decay without the touch of destruction one finds so often in abandoned buildings. Destruction, graffiti, garbage, all that stuff does not belong in what I love for a great urbex photo. I’m picky that way.

On numerous occasions, I came out of a location bummed out because there were no shots to be made anymore. And I took shots I never edited because of graffiti, too. So, for me, graffitis were a no-go for a long time. These people don’t belong in abandoned buildings!

Graffiti of a hand with lightning
Graffiti of faces near a door


And actually, that’s me being a hypocrite, because, as they don’t belong there, so don’t we, as urban explorers. We’re both the trespassing kind, even though graffiti artists seem to do more damage. But is that actually true?

In the old days of urban exploring, we had the motto “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footsteps” (or was it the other way around?). Nowadays, people barge into locations in large groups, drag furniture together to get a “wow, this has been left abandoned and untouched for years” feel (which of course is clearly visible, there’s still not many places like, for instance, “Villa st. Marie“), they steal, and leave tags behind. Be it in the dust, be it on a wall, I’ve seen logos from several explorers that way.

So yes, me saying we have more of a “right” to be there would be truly hypocritical. Where else could street artists go and spray their beautiful stuff? Of course, there are legal alternatives, but this is also true for photography. And, there’s not many around, in both cases.

Graffiti of a female face
Pyramid graffiti

During my over 10 years of exploring I’ve seen numerous works of art, and, as said, rarely paid any attention to them. Because I just didn’t want to! On my recent road trip through Italy, this changed. We were at a location where I didn’t see any motifs, as my shooting preference has changed quite a bit during the last couple of years. So I walked around and started to see. With a new pair of eyes.

Graffiti can be beautiful

And damn, I was smitten! There were so many beautiful works of art that would rarely be seen by anyone. Because they were hidden in an abandoned munitions factory. What a shame. I mean, the hours of work put in there, must be unbelievable! Quite a difference to us, photographers, setting up, seeing what’s there, and pushing a button. Of course, nothing wrong with that, but where we, photographers duplicate, street artists create!

Graffiti of an eye near a tree
Graffiti of a whale

When I noticed the beauty of these graffitis I decided to shoot (there’s duplication for ya) and collect these works of art to write a blog article about them. I then remembered that on a couple of occasions I shot a piece of graffiti in the past, too, so I dug into my photo library again.


So what changed for me to be able to open my eyes like this? I have started photographing life, people, humanity. In order to do so, you also need to be more understanding of humans and their wants and needs. And that’s something I try to focus on. Roam through the world with an open heart and mind, and be surprised, without any prejudice. Something I am learning, thanks to this beautiful passion called photography.

Graffiti destroyed by broken off wwall
Graffiti of square smiley faces

All these works are, regretfully, by artists I don’t know, otherwise, I’d give them their deserved credit.

~ B.B.

Written by Bas

Photographer, traveler, lover of black coffee, red wine and gin & tonic. Wearer of black glasses and a black hat, always a camera in hand, and the occasional writer.

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