Sometimes Bad Graffiti Isn't Actually Bad
Scott Hocking is a photographer and artist from Detroit, and from the looks of his website, he is pretty prolific at documenting the forgotten and decaying in a poignant and poetic manner. That's why when I was scrolling through his work, I found it odd to find that amidst the conceptual sculptures and photographs, there was a collection of images of a different kind of art—the kind with a lot more dicks and boobs and swears. Scott's series, "Bad Graffiti" documents just that, though "bad" is a subjective term. He knows and has traversed every corner of the city of Detroit, usually with a camera, and has snapped hundreds of shots of funny, odd, and crude spray paint scrawlings he found. His new book, also titled Bad Graffiti, recently came out on Black Dog Publishing, and the collection of images as a whole paints a picture of the true essence of graffiti—not some master craftsman creating a massive mural, but a dude with a spray can who just wants his voice to be heard by writing his thoughts on a wall. Even if that message is "I Like Boobs."
We caught up with Scott to talk about his love for dirty words written large in public.
VICE: How did this project start for you?
Scott Hocking: I do all kinds of different stuff as an artist and for a while the bad graffiti thing was just a side interest, but then around 2010 I got really excited about it and wanted to document the shit out of it before certain things I liked disappeared. Sometimes you have ideas and you like them, but you don’t think of them as projects somehow and then it dawns on you that this could be something in itself.
How did that change for you? Did anything happen that made you feel that way?
One day I was working with a friend. I was telling her, I think it dawned on me that I should compile these photographs of bad graffiti. I got excited about it, I told her about it, she seemed excited about it and that exact day is when I found the one that says "close my ass.” That’s why it’s the first image in the book, because it really was one of those light bulb moments. I really felt like I had this idea and then I found this unbelievably, enigmatic, awesome piece of graffiti. I still don’t know if it’s a person who was like, “Man, my ass needs to be closed,” or I think they might’ve been talking about the building, like they want the store to close.
Have you noticed many bad graffiti patterns or artists?
I had these really ambiguous rules I set up for myself, so I was very finicky. Like most things I do, I get very particular about it. So, there were all these things I would decide whether or not they’d qualify and one of the rules I made, was if something appeared more than once and it became clear that it was basically somebody’s tag and they were doing it over and over again throughout the city then it disqualified it for me. For me it had to be closer to one offs, or things that were really standing on their own. I tried to stick to things that seemed more like drunken moments or an error that happened or something like that.
Over the course of the project, did you ever want to include cities other than Detroit?
I definitely still take photos of things I like in other cities. But I decided I had to have some parameter, otherwise it just gets too damn big. Even just deciding to stay in the city proper boundaries I still had the next level of questions. The majority of the photos are outdoors. I wanted to keep it like that, not too many indoors. What if I decide to take photos of bathroom graffiti? Holy crap, that’s a whole other level, so I stayed away from that.
The book is out now, but you’re still working on the project?
Yeah, I think that’s kind of the same with every project. It’s hard to end a project when you keep finding awesome photos. So, the book is out and the idea according to the publisher was they print 4,000 copies and if it sells out, then they decide if they want to do a second printing or not. I would think that if things go well, then maybe there is a chance that I’d maybe do a second edition someday and perhaps include newer photos or ones that were rejected from the first one… Even More Bad Graffiti Part Deux.
See all of Scott's work here.