Hi Matt, OK...here we go, first question:
Which came first for you, graffiti or photography? Tell me about that time in your life.
I started taking pictures as a kid in the late '60s and actually sold a print from a 1971 picture, but I forgot about photography from 1972-1984 as growing up in NYC offered me many diversions, mostly dangerous and illegal. I'll never know what would have become of me if I'd stayed in school and followed a more traditional path. I was attending Music & Art high school in 1973 and the graffiti movement was still in its early phase. The thrill of seeing your name (Which was actually a logo which had to be repeated perfectly under many difficult circumstances) plastered all over town was too great to resist. Today I know fifty year old writers who still argue about who was more "Famous." They never stop boasting and most of them act fifteen to this day. Most writers belonged to clubs like the Soul Artists, 3YB or the Ex-Vandals and others just had a small group of friends whom they would "Bomb" with. I don't mind being honest about the fact that I was brought up by parents, who taught me NOT to steal, so I had to buy my paint, which was embarrassing. Most writers knew where they could steal copious amounts of spray paint. Trench coats with large inner pockets sewn in helped fulfill that need. Looking back on those days, I come away feeling very grateful that I'm still walking around snapping pictures. I fell off of a Broadway local at the 103rd St. station in '74 and hit a girder and tumbled onto the tracks. I landed very close to the third rail and was unable to get back up on my feet. My pal Coca-82 and KILL-3 lifted me off the tracks and loaded my carcass into a checker cab. I also had the pleasure of standing between two express trains doing 40 MPH in opposite directions, and that is hard to describe! On my 18th birthday it occurred to me that having been busted three times for "writing" I was going to no longer be arrested as a minor and might even end up at "The Tombs" which made me rethink the tag which I had just placed on Radio City Music Hall. It was obvious this one would be washed off the next day, and it was almost an epiphany that I was wasting my time with graffiti. I had been fairly talented but other writers were spending more time bombing, and were winning the fame game. A few were doing masterpieces which were way beyond what I was capable of, and I knew that I would have to put all my time and energy into graffiti if I wanted to remain relevant. Girls and getting high were also more appealing than running around trying to get my name on every wall.
In the summer of 1978 I began to drive a NYC yellow cab. I was interested in trying to make enough money to pay my $200 a month rent. Driving a cab also gave me a chance to travel all five boroughs and learn a lot about my city. The first three years were actually a lot of fun and the city at night was a crazy place to take in. I wish I had been with camera in the '70s but after numerous occasions where I'd say to friends or myself "I wish I had a fu----- camera" I finally walked into Competitive Camera across from Madison Square Garden and I bought an AE-1 Canon and a trusty 50mm 1.4 lens which was great for night shooting. Probably the best $250 I ever spent!
I love the way your photographs show the viewer a very specific moment in time, for example the Three Sailors. That era in NYC is clearly over. What were and are your intentions with your photography?
"Reaganomics" changed everything. For decades New York's rents went up a little bit here and there, but in the 1980's it went spinning out of control. Stores which had been around since WW II or before, were closing left and right, and each time I'd blink another one was gone. I felt an urgent need to try and document New York's past before it was gone forever. I keep combing through my early work and finding pictures which I overlooked twenty years ago, and now I have a great scanner (Imacon) which lets me do these pictures justice.
You have opened an online store to give people access to buy your photographs at very reasonable prices. I applaud you for this. When did you start this and how can people find your store?
I printed in the darkroom like everyone did for many years and I still want to make silver prints of my better images, but as I get older with chronic back and knee pain, the long six hour sessions are a little harder. Also paper is now costing twice what it did just ten years ago. When I compare my silver darkroom prints against my ink jet digital prints, there's still a slight edge in favor of silver. When I can no longer discern that difference, then maybe the ease of digital printing will win me over. I decided to try and open a virtual store a few weeks ago because I can't find a negative, then set up my darkroom and still charge a price which most people could afford. Even though my prices for darkroom prints are reasonable when compared to other artists, I want to sell prints to as many people as possible. I don't believe in the practice of numbering prints in limited editions. I hate the contrived scarcity and understand why people do it, but its not for me.
See more of Matt Webers's work at: mattweberphotos.wordpress.com
Photos Copyright: Matt Weber