As part of an ongoing project for Agence France-Presse, I recently had the opportunity to photograph a group of street artists known as Ground Release as they created new pieces on the walls of the communal area of Trellick Tower in north London. Never having seen these guys at work, I was half assuming they may be a little reticent when it came to having a photographer in their midst but they all proved to be a top bunch of chaps.

Wanting to see the whole thing from start to finish, I arrived in time to see them painting over all of the old tags and graffiti that covered the walls. With every possible square inch of surface already daubed in tags and graffiti, the plan was to create a clean canvas and provide the area with some consistent artwork that could brighten it up, rather than countless repetitions of the same names over and over again.

After laying down a neutral coat, the team got to it, all working on their own section of wall. Never having worked with or talked to street artists before, it was interesting to find out that only a couple of the ten guys involved had any idea of what they were going to do. For most of them, they just went with the flow and would be working on ideas that they’d been developing in other recent work. Of the two that were working from plans, one was working from a rough sketch while another guy kept consulting the concept sketch on his iPhone screen.

I was actually shocked at how little interaction there was from the residents throughout the day. While the handful that did come downstairs to check out their new art were friendly and wanted to take pictures, only one seemed concerned but after a few minutes discussion, came round to the idea and was last heard saying how much he could appreciate the artwork over random tagging.

Ground Release is an international arts and culture initiative that aims to bring together people from across the globe through the language of supposed “underground” art and communications. With ongoing projects in Europe, Asia and the US, the artists involved all use skills and style often connected with illegal graffiti, and aim to make it a more accepted form.

The thing that I found hardest to get my head around was the tiny lifespan that is expected of the final work. One guy spent all day on his section and was very close to completion by the time the light faded. When I chatted to him about what he had left to do, he prefaced his reply with; “If it’s still here tomorrow…”

Aside from leaving me feeling a little like a middle-aged uncle trying to relate to his teenage nephews (making an aerosol of myself?), it was a really fascinating day, chatting to these guys. I just stupidly assumed that street artists still used spray paint from their local car spares shop but while your local tagger may well do, the serious artists have whole ranges of professional quality paint in cans designed for exactly this purpose. Golly, don’t I sound completely out of touch with the youth?

The reason that I was actually on-site that day was to create a time-lapse of the artists at work but spending time with them provided so many more opportunities that just that. I will be sharing the time-lapse when it’s published by AFP. Watch this highly-decorated space…

6 Responses to “Wall or nothing…”

  1. Nice to see something very different. Looks like you had a creative day out, with lots of nice depth of field shenanigans too. Excellent. The time lapse will be interesting.

    Posted by Andy Tobin
  2. There is some great talent among these guys. I was talking to a group of them last year in Brighton and for them it’s more than just turning up with some car spray paint, they’ve turned it into and art form, almost a culture. They were a passionate, inspiring group. Great images Mr Neal.

    Posted by Tim
  3. @Andy – Yup, turned from being my expectations of standing around, twiddling my fingers to a really fun day!

    @Tim – Thanks Tim. Yup, they’re a lovely bunch of chaps. :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  4. I would get that backfocusing lens sorted! Chin Chin

    Posted by Kirkmeister
  5. It was a bit soft by his eyes but I think I sharpened it enough, no? ;)

    Posted by tabascokid
  6. If you liked your day there you’d have loved shooting the “see no evil” project in Bristol last summer. Partly sponsored by the council, it’s a large exhibition of the artist’s skills.

    Posted by Andy

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