Apr 24, 2009 ellen leahy Uncategorized
Inside Featherstone’s story; Writer delivers other’s words with a punch:
The celebrated writer Steve Featherstone is also a photographer. He wrote in walrusmagazine.com/articles/2008.04-ephemera-latrine-graffiti/1/3:
I began photographing the graffiti because I realized that it would soon be erased by the cleaning crews who regularly swabbed the stalls. I made a point of visiting every latrine trailer on base, squeezing into more than 100 stalls and shooting in the dead of night to avoid suspicion. The air conditioning in some of the trailers had broken down and the oppressive heat and stench made me dizzy.
Featherstone created a side project while traveling with soldiers in Afghanistan – capturing Latrine Graffiti. Seems innocuous, writers are often drawn to harnessing words. So, a writer who is also a photographer is often drawn to photograph words as well.
But also, let me share this, I asked Featherstone for contact information to fact check my reporting of his writing workshop at Le Moyne. He gave me his printed business card. What I did not notice was that it had some of this latrine graffiti printed on the back. The next day a friend of mine found the card and became enraged that someone would threaten me in this manner. I was confused, on the back of the card it said, I got you good you F##ckers – God.
Hmm, I thought, then I realized it was printed on the card, not written (unusual to print on both sides of a business card) and there were other words and it looked like graffiti – something I capture weekly on the streets in Syracuse and will often print in the City Eagle on page 6 under the standard head: Words on the Street. I remember being scolded by two fellow editors for printing a slightly trampled receipt of the West End grocer NoJaimes that I saw lying in its parking lot after shopping one day. The editors felt I was trying to put this great neighborhood market down by printing a picture of this litter. Instead, I was just capturing words I saw on the street. I told them that I had photographed P&C receipts scattered in the parking lot of that grocery store in Skaneateles and did not get the same reaction even though the P&C there really does have a dubious reputation with some of its shoppers.
Many Central New Yorkers have visited the Dinosaur Bar B Que, and while there have taken in its restroom graffiti, which is quite a show. The recently closed roadhouse in Skaneateles, World Famous Morris’ Grill, was also known for its men’s and ladies room musings on the wall.
In addition, one of the owner of Funk and Waffles (that great restaurant and club up on SU’s hill) called me one day after I had printed a photograph of some graffiti on the wall outside their establishment located in the alley behind Marshall Street (near Chuck’s). He was concerned that people would associate his establishment with these words on the street that he found offensive. He said that staffers at Funk and Waffles often paint this wall – to remove mean spirited words. I had noted the location of the words as being near Funk and Waffles, but never associated the two in my mind – instead these were just words on the street that I had captured. Yet obviously he had. And for that I apologized.
Featherstone also said about his graffiti collection:
So how should you look at the graffiti in these photographs? As a fleeting moment in a six year-old war–nothing more. The words on these walls are snatches of an overheard and ongoing conversation that changes by the day, soldier’s talking to other soldiers at a time when soldiers are being asked to give more than they have been giving, which is already too much.
I put Featherstone’s business card on my executive editor’s desk, face down. Shortly after he next went into his office, he started a loud verbal discourse upon finding it. And he didn’t even want to think about the person who could have put something like this on their business card. It actually angered him. I also showed it to a young female editor, who excitedly said, “That’s cool.”
It seemed no matter who I showed it to, it garnered a larger than life reaction in a world overexposed with words and pictures.
It’s tempting to view these photographs as the “true” or “authentic” voice of American soldiers. But that would be missing the point. Graffiti is public by definition–it’s not a private confession. It’s a surface effect of something far broader and infinitely more complicated than what can be contained in a hastily scribbled line or two.
One Le Moyne grad, Annette Hogan, who heard about the card before I knew what it was and then later found out about Featherstone’s graffiti-capture said, the angry or excited reactions made a lot of sense, because there must of been a lot of pent up emotions poured into these private words, written in such a private moment, now public.