As a major serving in the British military during World War II, Jon Naar witnessed a way of life reduced to rubble. In the winter of 1973, as a fifty-something photojournalist living and working in New York, Naar once again saw a devastated landscape. But here the names of the young and dispossessed—often no more than a handle and maybe a number corresponding to the street the kid lived on, like Junior 161 or Stay High 149—were being spray-painted everywhere: bus shelters, handball courts, ice-cream trucks, subway trains, bridges, even trees. This was evidence of a citywide referendum on the American dream, he believed, with votes of no confidence tagged on every surface possible. Naar spent twelve days in crumbling neighborhoods of the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn with a Nikon FM and a Leica M-4, taking more than three thousand Kodachrome photographs of the burgeoning graffiti movement. He edited his trove down to forty-four gems, which he intended for a book, the first major work on this emergent subculture.
more from Hua Hsu at Bookforum here.