Graffiti as we know it first appeared in New York City in the late 1960s, and by the 1970s it was omnipresent. In 1972, photographer Jon Naar was commissioned by a design firm to shoot a book on the New York City graffiti scene. Naar had lived in cities around the world — never owning a car — and had been shooting street culture for magazines in Munich, Paris, Berlin and London. On his first expedition out for this assignment, he headed to Harlem on the subway. When teenagers on the platform asked him about his camera, he told them he was doing a book on graffiti. The kids turned out to be graffiti writers who over a period of 10 days took Naar on a tour of the city. Naar was the first professional photographer to document the wall-writing culture.
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Norman Mailer was hired to write the text for the project. Naar connected Mailer with CAY 161 and JUNIOR 161, seminal artists of the time. The Faith of Graffiti captures both an unvarnished look at New York City and the origins of a groundbreaking urban movement. Although the first edition was out of print for 30 years, the book is now revered as an iconic document of early graffiti culture. Naar passed away in 2017.
BEYOND THE STREETS New York, 2019. Photo by Dan Bradica.