Scratching the Surface: A Rapid Research Appraisal of Graffiti in Manchester

Graffiti artists at Eurocultured 2007 in Manchester talk about the origins, inspirations and motivations for their work. (First shown at the International Visual Sociology Association Conference, New York University, July 2007.)

Scratching the Surface: A Rapid Research Appraisal of Graffiti in Manchester

Okay so people have been writing on walls for thousands of years, drawing in caves, carving their names on school desks, leaving their mark on trains, bridges and run down shop fronts. For some its urban art for others just the arrogant scribble of vandals with huge ego’s. Graffiti is controversial. There’s a whole industry dedicated to covering it up, catching and punishing the perpetrators. It’s a running battle, a competition between the graffiti writers and those who spend their days painting it out. If you want to leave your mark you’ve got to be quick. So maybe if you want to know what lies behind the graffiti you’d better be quick too.

Digital video and photography is fast. You capture things you didn’t see when you looked through the viewfinder, you hear voices you never heard at the time. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get a glimpse of what’s not been said, what isn’t shown. You get a chance to feel what’s going on. This is a film about graffiti in Manchester. It’s a rapid research project, an attempt to keep up, to capture the motives, meanings and perceptions of graffiti writers in the city. Mirroring the temporal constraints of graffiti, making use of digital video and photography, some conversation and one hour of raw video footage I aim to capture what informs, inspires and motivates graffiti artists/writers as they practice their art during a bank holiday graffiti event on the streets of Manchester. My objective is to make use of the speed of digital visual media and keeping within the time constraints of a one day graffiti art event, capture, explore and analyse the personal, social, cultural and political significance of graffiti.

 Watch film

Tags: , , ,

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


  • Watching a documentary with people hacking their way through some polar wasteland is merely a visual. Actually trying to deal with cold that can literally kill you is quite a different thing.

    Henry Rollins

  • Give us adequate images. We lack adequate images. Our civilization does not have adequate images. And I think a civilization is doomed or is going to die out like dinosaurs if it doesn’t develop an adequate language for adequate images.

    Werner Herzog


    Reality changes; in order to represent it, modes of representation must change.

    Bertolt Brecht

  • If you want to tell the untold stories, if you want to give voice to the voiceless, you’ve got to find a language. Which goes for film as well as prose, for documentary as well as autobiography. Use the wrong language, and you’re dumb and blind.

    Salman Rushdie

  • I believe that we face incredible obstacles in our attempts to see the world. Everything in our nature tries to deny the world around us; to refabricate it in our own image; to reinvent it for our own benefit. And so, it becomes something of a challenge, a task, to recover (or at least attempt to recover) the real world despite all the impediments to that end.

    Errol Morris


    The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden.

    Pierre Bourdieu


    There are dignified stupidities, and there are heroic stupidities, and there is such a thing as stupid stupidities, and that would be a stupid stupidity not to have a camera on board.

    Werner Herzog

  • So it is my firm belief, that if you want nowadays, to have a clear and distinct communication of your concepts, you have to use synthetic images, no longer words.

    Vilém Flusser


    For any picture, ask yourself what question or questions it might be answering. Since the picture could answer many, questions, we can decide what question we are interested in.

    Howard Becker

  • Photographers learn to interpret photographs in that technical way because they want to understand and use that ‘language’ themselves (just as musicians learn a more technical musical language than the layman needs). Social scientists who want to work with visual materials will have to learn to approach them in this more studious and time-consuming way

    Howard Becker


    If it’s far away, it’s news, but if it’s close at home, it’s sociology.

    James Reston


    Every photograph promises more than it delivers and delivers more than it intended.

    Steve Harp


    The task for sociology is to come to the help of the individual. We have to be in service of freedom. It is something we have lost sight of.

    Zygmunt Bauman


    Sometimes one picture is equal to 30 pages of discourse, just as there are things images are completely incapable of communicating.

    William S. Burroughs

  • You try your hardest to give people their space, but at moments you know you’re capturing their image in ways they may or may not be okay with. It’s that rocking back and forth between respect and betrayal that I feel like is at the heart of the film.

    Kirsten Johnson


    One advantage of photography is that it’s visual and can transcend language.

    Lisa Kristine


    Visual culture is now the study of how to understand change in a world too enormous to see but vital to imagine.

    Nicholas Mirzoeff

  • Before I became a film major, I was very heavily into social science, I had done a lot of sociology, anthropology, and I was playing in what I call social psychology, which is sort of an offshoot of anthropology/sociology – looking at a culture as a living organism, why it does what it does.

    George Lucas

  • We never really know what’s around the corner when we’re filming – what turn a story will take, what a character will do or say to surprise us, how the events in the world will impact our story.

    Barbara Kopple


Contact us

    Become a member