Early New York subway graffiti by Keith Baugh

Early New York subway graffiti by Keith Baugh

By Arden de Raaij

Every once in a while gems that we thought were long lost (or never knew that they existed in the first place) get uncovered.  ‘Early New York Subway Graffiti’ by Keith Baugh is one of these gems and I’ve had the honor to get a signed copy of this in my mailbox. Time for a review!

Let me start off by telling you about the artist who put this book together: Keith Baugh. Hailing from Nothing Hill, London and moved to Gloucestershire, Keith is a photographer, painter and art teacher. He has done several series of photos and paintings inspired by his trips to the USA and also has  a striking series of Bob Dylan.

In the early 70’s Keith did something that no-one else did in that era: He noticed the subway graffiti and took time out of his day to take pictures of it. Nowadays that might be quite normal, and everyone can take out his or her phone and snap a pic. But this was a time where you needed film to take photos and graffiti wasn’t an accepted phenomenon yet. For outsiders it was Vandalism, nothing more, nothing less.

Not for Keith Baugh though. As one of the earliest photographers (this is about 5 years before ‘Subway Art’) he noticed that these writings were something cultural and special. To capture this he went to the elevated subway platforms of New York. A lot of these were situated in no-go areas for tourists but Keith had a mission. With that mission, he captured numerous early works of the writers we now call legends.

The pictures in the book are of great quality and have an amazing 70’s feel to it, not in the last place because of the great characters staring out of the windows. The quality makes you realize that someone took his time to take these, especially for the graffiti, which was exceptional back then.  The book ends with a series of beautiful pictures of New York in ’75, including the Coney Island Wonder wheel.

The book also has a nice introduction, explaining the how and why. It reads away like a detective novel  >deep raspy voice< “ I look out over Grand Concourse and watch FDNY fire-fighters hose down the smoldering remains of a tenement building burn down, as another slum landlord decides to cash in his chips”.

So why should you get this book? Because if ‘Subway Art’ is old school, these are the blueprints or hieroglyphics of subway art. What Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant did in the 80’s Keith already did in the 70’s and we’re thankful for that, because all these pieces would be long lost if it wasn’t for him and his Nikon. All of the photos in the book have never been published before, it’ll be the first time you’ll see them. All in all this book is a beautiful and rare look into the early ages of graffiti that should be on the shelf of anyone with an interest in graffiti history.

Cop it here.