Marco Mendia Spent Nearly Ten Years with Europe's Graffiti Youth

Marco Mendia Spent Nearly Ten Years with Europe's Graffiti Youth

Marco Mendia shares his grainy snapshots of rebellious graffiti youth in metro tunnels and abandoned warehouses.

Breaking and entering, trespassing, and vandalism were an everyday part of Italian photographer Marco Mendia’s life for nearly a decade. Before he became his own boss and founded a creative studio in Milan, Mendia ran with teenage graffitos who used Europe’s metro systems as subterranean playgrounds to explore, take pictures, and practice spray-can calligraphy. From the mid aughts through 2015 they ran the tunnels, mostly without incident.


He's been in the graffiti scene since he was 14 years old, but by the time he turned 16, Mendia was more interested in capturing the unique places he saw than writing his name on walls. “Every place has something particular,” he told VICE. “In Vienna, the tunnels are so clean and well-illuminated”—perfect for both graffiti writing and photography. His favorite city was Paris. “I really like Parisian tunnels. I love the shape. They are really large. It’s huge in there. You can turn right and left. It’s amazing. And they are not ruined by Miamification.”

In 2015, Mendia was arrested in Milan, and then again in Paris while shooting. “While I was in jail, I lost faith for a moment,” he said. “When I was younger I enjoyed escaping from the police. As I grew up it became less fun.” Now 28, some of Mendia's friends are still tagging. Others have moved on to other creative careers in the art and fashion world.

He decided to self-publish his photographs to preserve the fleeting recklessness of their youth and the atmosphere before the graffiti world came to be dominated by Instagram. “Once, there was something secret about a spot. But social media changed the game," he said. "People are trying to steal the best spot now." A secluded subway tunnel or abandoned warehouse used to be a closely guarded secret to be shared with close friends. Now graffiti artists all go to the same spots they find online. “From an underground point of view, of course it’s worse now,” he said. “When you can see everything, it becomes mainstream.”


Below are some of Mendia's best photos. He captioned a few of them for context, but they’re not hashtagged or geo-filtered, and he didn’t say exactly where they were taken, so they’re one of a kind.

"I want to dedicate this interview to the mates who shared with me best and worst moments in the graffiti game," Mendia added. "AVIDO - 031, ZOOW24m, and HERS & SANCHO. Best buddies ever."

We were in Milan at the red line, a usual spot for us. After a while they installed a camera in order to catch us. We went to paint at night and a couple of minutes after we got the train in the tunnel we heard a voice from the speaker demanding we leave. Before we ran, we found the camera and tore it off. Once we got the place we used to chill, we didn’t know what to do with it. I think one of us just kept it as paperweight.

This cop was pointing at me, and yelled something like, "I will destroy your camera!" I was with a crew of friends in Barcelona and they were doing tags and bombing during the day. It was summer-time so the area was full of people, mostly tourists. Somebody called the police, and this guy came on a motorbike and walked towards us. I ran—but then I just turned back, looked at him and took a picture. Only after we both heard the camera shutter did I realize what was going on. That time, I made it in one piece, and so did my camera.

We found this puppy in the backyard of a subway deposit in Bucharest. The dog needed help because a train ripped off one of its paws. We took care of him by buying food from the supermarket and bringing it to the yard. We chilled there for about a week with regular access to this spot. We paid local security with money, cigarettes, and beer so they let us go inside and paint.

Follow Marco Mendia on Instagram and check out his work at Molto Studio.

Tell Beckett Mufson your stories about making risky art on Twitter.