Wrong place, wrong time is a predicament photographer, Jonas Lara is all too familiar with. Artists have always been considered among the “bottom of the rung” on society’s ladder. Beethoven and Van Gogh were considered eccentric and outcasts of society, but graffiti artists get backlash and then some…and their wrap is getting grimmer. In many major cities, not only is law enforcement cracking down more harshly on graffiti artists, but their supporters as well.
On February 2, 2010, while documenting local graffiti artists in the South Central area of Los Angeles, Jonas was arrested along with the two artists and was charged with, “Aiding and Abetting” and his film equipment, along with his desire to go out and shoot were confiscated, at least for a while.
What Jonas was doing wasn’t illegal, but it was clear the cops who arrested him had their own agenda. They changed his charge from initially being Felony Vandalism to Aiding and Abetting, “They kept changing my charges because I’m sure they knew they had nothing on me,” it was clear to Jonas that the cops were desperate to make something stick, “It’s not illegal to document a crime but at the same time, in their eyes I was glorifying graffiti and they weren’t happy about that.”
It’s probably very fitting that Jonas came face-to-face with the law on his graffiti excursion, since the crux of graffiti art is taking a stance against authority and giving the voice back to the people. In this case, Jonas was simply documenting the artists’ process, “I had been working on a documentary project for several years that involved spending time with artists and documenting,” says Jonas, “The work I am doing is less concerned with the graffiti itself and more about the action involved,” he continues, “I’ve always been interested in showing people what things look like.”
Technically, Jonas isn’t just an outsider looking in, as his interest in graffiti was piqued in his formative years,
“When I was younger I skated and was part of a crew that included graffiti artists, emcees and all kinds of other rugged individuals,” he admits, “I’ve always felt at home with street culture and never saw myself as an outsider.”
The images he captured on that fateful night two years ago, as seen in this post, are hauntingly vivid and allow the viewer and voyeuristic glimpse into the misunderstood world of graffiti. As a fan of his work, I almost feel as if I was there; heart beating through my chest from the excitement of seeing an artist in action and the anticipation of hearing police sirens.
His experience that evening, though arduous was an ultimate victory over the charges against him. His photos reflect the passion, heart and soul of why graffiti artists risk their freedom; to represent their message via aerosol paint.