A photograph depicting the name tag of artist and graffiti writer LOEK on a street sign in Madrid, Spain - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful
Artist and graffiti writer NEKO, from Madrid, Spain, writing sketches of a Piece into his Black Book - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful
A photograph depicting the artist and graffiti writer BUNY KR2 climbing what appears to be a billboard in Madrid, Spain - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful
A photograph depicting the artist and graffiti writer ARKO writing his piece on a house wall in Madrid, Spain - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful
Lost Memories © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful
A photograph depicting the artist and graffiti writer BUNY KR2 climbing what appears to be a billboard in Madrid, Spain - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful
Random Tags on a wall in Madrid, Spain - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful
A piece from artist and graffiti writer PEMEX shown roadside in Madrid, Spain - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful
A piece from artist and graffiti writer TEKI DHOR at a house wall in Madrid, Spain - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful

Vandal Voyeur & The Madrid Graffiti Scene

Photographing the Madrid graffiti districts is a passion Vandal Voyeur shares with its writers. Using his moniker as an Englishman abroad he works to show the elements that surround graffiti while documenting the graffiti itself, using a voyeurism to see beyond the finished piece. Here he spills on the Madrid scene, his and writers’ motivations, and finding that all-important balance • by Debra O’Sullivan

On passion

The graffiti writer NEKO, from Madrid, Spain, spilling a piece on the pavement using an fire extinguisher - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautifulMy family and I moved to Madrid at the beginning of 2007, fed up with the London rat-race. There was no job lined up, just a flat, so we took a leap of faith. Since then I have been working in a multinational for the past 10 years – working to live. I love it here, the people, the food and the winter sunshine.

In secondary school I scribbled tags in books and folders but it never went any further than that. When we first moved here, my 2-year old daughter would get up really early, and me being an early bird, I’d take her out in the sling to make sure she didn’t wake up my wife – we’re talking 6am! I discovered that there was a lot of graffiti in my neighbourhood and decided to take my camera out with me. That was when I got the bug. Ten years later I think I have something in the region of 100,000 photos of Madrid graffiti. You can definitely call it a passion.

I’m not a writer, my photography is my work. I am self-taught, inspired by the writers themselves and some „local“ photographers, such as JEOSM, Alberto de Pedro, Jaime Alekos , Selector Marx, German Rigol, Daniel Luengo, Adrian Robos, SugarBombing and Enrique Escandell ( sorry for those I’ve forgotten ).

The Madrid graffiti scene

Artist and graffiti writer HEC in the metro tunnels of Madrid, Spain - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful

I have gotten to know people in the scene little by little; graffiti is a fairly closed world for obvious reasons. Graffiti is vandalism, which is illegal. It’s all about trust, in both directions. Being non-Spanish has had its advantages – I was told by one writer, „You can’t be police so I’m cool with you“. Some writers tell me today that I know more writers and more spots than most writers in Madrid. I’m not so sure, but I do know a few! I respect writers, all the time, energy and passion they put into graffiti. It really is more than just a hobby, it is a way of life and it isn’t easy. I feel respect back from writers too; at least I think it is respect. Sometimes I sense confusion – „Why is this foreigner so into graffiti, what’s in it for him, why doesn’t he write too??“ Some writers have directly asked me those questions; with others I can just feel it. Some writers I have known for nearly ten years, and it has been great to see the evolution of their work as well as get to know them.

A group of graffiti writers running up the stairs towards the exit of a metro station in Madrid, Spain - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautifulGraffiti writers are graffiti writers 24/7, it is part of their DNA no matter where they are, or what they are doing. If they are not getting up they are talking about their next moves, the scene, things they want to try out, the last piece, so-and-so writer. There is no rest from graffiti. There is the saying, „Graffiti ruined my life“. It can be all-consuming and it has wrecked more than one relationship that I know of. So with time and trust I have been allowed to get this view of the graffiti scene and it has been enriching.

On sacrifice

Graffiti for many is an integral part of their life. In fact you could say it defines who they are. Balancing it with other aspects of life is a major challenge and many sacrifices are made. It must be difficult living with a writer. They generally keep unsociable hours, spend a good amount of their money on paint and graffiti-related materials, and like to hang out with other writers. Holidays? Well that would be travelling to other parts of the country or world to paint. Graffiti is not like the romantic image that you can see touted around in some quarters. It’s dirty ( you end up covered in paint, and many places you paint are squalid and filthy ), and it can leave very little time for anything else. So why do people do it? As I said, it’s part of who you are. Painting is as necessary as eating or drinking. It is a passion, an addiction, a basic need that needs fulfilling. Spanish writers constantly use a phrase that roughly translated means, “I went out to do a quick piece to ease the withdrawal symptoms“.

On balance

A beautiful piece by street artist BORONDO on a house wall in Madrid, Spain - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautiful

I try to keep an eye on the whole scene, which is difficult in Madrid as there are a lot of writers and they tend to be very active. There are new pieces every day and night. As well as that I do try to keep a special eye out for writers I dig. Knowing the writers can add something to the work but not always. While I ‚know’ lots of writers, I am close to only a small handful. With these writers we have spent time talking in depth about graffiti and I have learnt a lot from them in general and also about themselves.

It has been both a positive and a negative experience. I went through a phase of dedicating all my free time to the pursuit of the next shot, to the detriment of my family life. It was a difficult 3-4 year period for my wife and me. Today life is a lot more balanced and happy. I don’t ‚need‘ to photograph every bit of graffiti I see, I’m far more selective. Through people like Jordan Seiler I have become interested in the debate on ownership of public space and advertising. His work is great, check him out!

On collaboration & the future

A self portrait of British photographer Vandal Voyeur in Liege Palais - © Vandal Voyeur, #allcitiesarebeautifulI worked with Rich Trussler of Utilon Books for about 5 years in London. He was someone I got on well and connected with, and he got me into the more artistic aspect of photography. That carried into my graffiti photography for sure. We stayed in touch when I moved to Madrid and a few years back Rich told me about an ebook project he was working on in his free time, and asked if I’d like to collaborate. That was Madrid Graffiti 1 and since then we have done Madrid Graffiti 2, and MG3 is in the oven ready to come out soon.

As for the future? I want to enjoy life… keep taking pictures. I’ve been invited to put together a solo show of my photos so that might come about soon. If I can get my act together.

The Vandal Voyeur Directory

@vandalvoyeur – Mainly using this now – I publish a whole lot less than I used to back when I started with flickr!
vandalvoyeur.wordpress.com – Pretty much abandoned – last post Oct 2016 – but I will resuscitate it at some point.
flickr.com/photos/dug_da_bug/ – Back in the day I used flickr to document anything and everything related to Madrid Graffiti.

Text © Debra O’Sullivan • Photography © Vandal Voyeur

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