Sometime in the early 1930s, Brassaï began making photographs of Parisian graffiti. He had already shot a lot of pictures of classical Parisian sceneslong, hedgerowed passages of the Tuileries; the Eiffel Tower at nightbut this was something different, on the level of both subject and scale. The photographs, focusing on the iconography left by the city’s inhabitants, offer close-ups of crumbling wallsmost of them found in working-class districts of the city. There are carved faces and dug-out hearts in addition to crude animals and skulls and crossbones rendered with paint and chalk. Brassaï pictured them all similarly, almost as if they were evidence, and one is prompted to compare these specimens with the kinds of graffiti one might encounter today. For starters, there is no color; the general feeling is different. The rich blacks, whites, and grays of Brassaï’s
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