They say never judge a book by its cover… well, when it comes to graff mags, the reverse applies, they should always be judged on their cover. So having first clapped eyes on The London Line, produced by the photographer Cities At Night, I knew it was gonna have some nice content without even opening it! The zine is pretty self explanatory; the publication is made up of analogue photos showing London around the moonlit hours.
In this first issue the photographer behind The London Line has focused on trackside scenes which they see as one of the most genuine spots to find graffiti. Spread across thirty-six pages the zine spans the chromed out brown-red walls, smooth concrete, and knackered old brick of the capital. Being large format allows the reader to properly soak up the artificially illuminated cityscapes which sometimes take on a painting-like quality. Crisscrossed by gleaming metal tracks, towering buildings, and channeled within miles of fencing this is also, an almost dystopian, vision of the control of urban space.
Would understanding The London Line as a commentary on public/private space and the neo-liberal city be reading too much into these images? Well, no. The press release for the zine states that this “is an anonymous counter-propaganda project.” It’s not only a publication of attractive images, as the photography is interspersed with texts by six anonymous London graffers. These short, hard-hitting, pieces place the graffiti firmly in a context of state suppression. This isn’t paranoid hyperbole but real people having their lives ruined for what is a seemingly harmless activity.
It can seem baffling that graffiti in London gets the response it has had and the contributors offer various explanations. Essentially they agree that graffiti is a threat. A threat to private property, to order, to capitalism; “a persistent human rebellion” that highlights the limits of social control. Chrome and black is part of the colour scheme of the rail network as it snakes out of London into Kent or Hertfordshire. This can be interpreted as a sign of decay, or urban pollution, or whatever half-baked notion is projected onto graffiti. The texts in the mag don’t mess trying to pitch graffiti as a misunderstood art-form, rather this is a relentless “fuck you to the authorities”.
Having said that, The London Line isn’t offering-up easy answers; one text argues that cultural output is the only form of resistance available, while another questions if graffiti culture can survive its commodification at all. I put this tension within the zine to its editor who replied that The London Line reflects their human experience and all the inconsistencies that come with it. Graffiti isn’t just some hobby and, when it is everything, and everything becomes graffiti, it provides its own way of interpreting the environment we live in.
The London Line is a top quality, thought provoking, new publication that fortunately isn’t going to be a one off. The next publication by Cities At Night is already in the process of being made and promises to showcase an innovative technique applied to graffiti photography. Taking a departure from London the focus will be on another interesting European city…. Meanwhile the opening salvo is limited to 250 copies so it’s a case of get it while you can!