To be an artist means being a brave misfit in a world of convention and normalcy. Being an artist is seldom looked at as being a “legitimate” occupation and from my own experiences and stories I’ve heard, most artists spend a lot of time defending themselves.
An un-artisic mind will never understand an artistic one and the outsider’s perspective on graffiti culture is almost always negative. Outsiders have already decided graffiti artists are destructive; they’ve gotten a hugely bad reputation from a few bad seeds who decide to scribble indiscriminately on random surfaces. But graffiti isn’t just spray painting any exterior wall; there are rules to be obeyed. A lot of the rules have to do with respecting other artists and even gaining the trust of one’s own crew. There are older graffiti artists who take “newbies” under their wing and teach them the ins and outs of the culture; sort of like an apprentice situation. They are taught different things like: spray painting on schools, houses or over windows is a huge no-no.
As a photographer who documented graffiti artist and ran with a crew of graffiti artists and other creative types since childhood, Jonas Lara was privy to all the rules. Unfortunately, the arresting officers on the night that Jonas was caught documenting a group of graffiti artists didn’t understand the laws that governed Jonas’ world. With the knowledge that graffiti artis never meant to be permanent, they rightfully claimed a space, a public canvas where their art would reside until it was painted over or replaced with a different artist’s creation. They meant no harm, but the police still intruded upon their space by using the power of their guns and badges to disrupt their ritual.
Though Jonas was an honest and hardworking young man, he claims he still wasn’t given a fair shot, “He judged me by my appearance” he says of his public defender, “Although I presented my credentials as a photographer and an upstanding citizen.” In the eyes of those who didn’t understand, Jonas was a hardened criminal who deserved time in jail because of his actions.
The officers and other authorities involved in Jonas’ case may have been upholding the law of the land, but what about graffiti law and the fact that Jonas’ footage of that night, which he recorded lawfully, was taken away from him? What of Jonas’ diminished desire to want to photograph anything of his arrest? I wonder if the officers were ever held accountable for interfering with an artist’s drive to create. And I wonder if urban artists will ever be appreciated or thought of as doing anything more than just disobeying the law.