“Watching My Name Go By,” a Vintage Documentary About Graffiti Art In 1970s NYC
As a New Yorker, I’m obsessed with photos/videos of “old, gritty” NYC of the ’70s and ’80s. The past stands in stark comparison to the current pristine present of trust fund kids, new money, and 7-Elevens (shudder). But there’s a right way and a wrong way to glorify the past. After all, what we find beautiful today was considered a nuisance at the time, and in the ’70s, nothing was as polarizing as graffiti.
In 1970s New York, graffiti blanketed the city. It covered subway cars, ran along the sides of every building, and smothered bridges and overpasses. Residents at the time saw the graffiti as a public nuisance that was ruining the beauty of the city, but others saw it as something more, namely as art.
Watching My Name Go By is a short BBC documentary that was one of the first to ask the question, “Can graffiti be art?” It was a radical concept for its time, and the documentary does a great job at injecting points of views from all sides of the debate. However, my favorite thing about the video are the clips of old school NYC, especially those battered subway cars! Sometimes you have to learn about the past to truly appreciate the present, and this documentary does that and more.
There’s also a book out with the same name if you want to learn more about the artists featured in the documentary.