Hearts, Hashtags & Swastikas: What the streets say about us

It’s everywhere you go but you probably don’t see it. You might have glanced at it once, maybe even twice, but not really.

Via direct submission. All images courtesy of Patrick Joseph

Via direct submission. All images courtesy of Patrick Joseph

Most people forget it the next minute, many more ignore it. But every once in a while, someone might just stop and take notice. Of course, we're talking about graffiti with random poetry, heartfelt symbols and little musings, daubed on city streets across the world.

Artist Patrick Joseph did just that for his new photo-book and multimedia project, Poet Fool, a catalogue of 129 images exploring the human experience through residues of recent history found in the streets. For five years, between 2011 and 2015, he randomly snapped raw graffiti in public spaces to document fragments of stories left behind by anonymous people.

“I became curious about the scribbles people leave on walls – not street art necessarily but personal notes on random things like pop culture, politics and life in general. They’re like pieces from a puzzle that have been lost, incomplete, incoherent and out of place, but each one a clue about something much bigger than it is,” said Joseph.

The London-based artist has amassed a substantial archive of documented graffiti from Europe and beyond, some of which now form the visual essay presented in his new book. Curated and divided into 15 chapters, the selected images are collectively considered as historical and cultural artefacts with the potential to examine contemporary society through recurring themes involving love and hate, freedom and control, hope and despair.

“I don’t seek out anything specific, but it has to mean something to me or contribute to a wider conversation. All the images I chose for Poet Fool tap into universal or personal matters that resonate with our collective experience of the world. It’s a window into our lives expressed by real people from different points of view. I’m simply documenting and continuing that process of communication using multimedia platforms,” he said.

Often familiar and sometimes challenging, the catalogue shows recognisable symbols which range from hearts and hashtags to swastikas, alongside words in nine languages. From personal confessions to political statements, it spans across different cultures between 15 cities including London, Budapest, Lisbon, Athens, Paris and Seattle.

“It’s a random process of chance, discovery and gut reaction. I take a snapshot of anything I find interesting as I come across it organically in everyday life, from the ridiculous to the sublime, which is a natural habit for most people these days with all the recording devices readily available to us. It all piles up into archives which I’m exploring in my work right now,” he explained.

Joseph, who studied multimedia arts at university, uses a variety of tools in his work including photography, video, digital, and other processes, actively pursuing an interdisciplinary approach to his practice. His latest project incorporates different materials and procedures based on this, which include book production, digital graphic design, site-specific installations, and documentary photography using increasingly sophisticated mobile technology.

The book, Poet Fool, is available at select independent bookstores and gallery shops. For more information or to join the conversation, visit facebook.com/poetfool.


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