Monday, July 1, 2013


Last weekend I found myself on the south side of Milwaukee scouting for opportunities to photograph urban decay, tagging, or graffiti and stumbled across a motherlode of all three.  This was on a dead end road just past a railroad underpass in a largely abandoned industrial area.  There I spied a couple of abandoned buildings that were decorated with flamboyant graffiti.  I felt a little uncomfortable parking my car on the desolate road and even more so when I approached the buildings, which proved to be almost totally trashed.  I spent the next hour there photographing the buildings, graffiti, and general scene.  The whole time I was concerned that I would be accosted by police or, worse, someone who might ask me to turn over my camera, wallet, or car keys.  Periodically, I would check to make sure the car, parked across the road, remained unmolested.  In the end, no one showed up that day, thankfully.

Here is the exterior of one of the buildings.

And here are some more shots of graffiti on that building's exterior.

By the way, the above is a second floor window.

I found the green really distasteful, but I did like the scream skull.

And I particularly liked the above shot for its simplicity.  A face, I think.

There was ample light on the exterior, but the interiors of the buildings were much more challenging, as was the footing, as the floors were deeply littered with miscellaneous trash, not to mention potential pitfalls--literally.

Here are a couple of wide-angle shots of the interior scene.

Note the trash on the floor.

Here are a couple of close-ups of graffiti in the above shot.

The graffito in this second shot is located high on the back wall of the building.  There is a narrow ledge (perhaps two feet wide) in front of the graffito.  I have to assume that the artist was standing on the ledge when he painted this piece, which makes it all the more impressive.

Despite how bright the above shots appear, as I said, the light was dim to iffy.  Although I had my tripod along, I had left it in the car and didn't want to go back for it, worrying a bit that if I had to decamp quickly, it might slow me down.  That's how concerned I was.  In any event, it was a bit of a challenge to take shots on a handheld basis.

I decided to return Sunday morning and this time to use my tripod, at least for the interior shots.  I had been there 10-15 minutes when someone else suddenly appeared.  I was extremely relieved to see that he was there with his camera also.  Turns out he has been photographing these buildings for years, as have a number of other photographers that he mentioned.  Not that one shouldn't remain cautious, as he said that over the years he had run into any number of homeless persons, as well as others who appeared to be drug users, along with one police officer.  He also educated me to the fact that the property is much more extensive than I had realized, and included a number of other abandoned--and graffiti-ed--buildings, as well as other structures that offered photographic opportunities.

Here are a few more shots of the general interior scene, most of which this time were taken with the aid of a tripod.

Incredibly ugly but extremely interesting nevertheless.  I loved it.

The real stars of this post are the variety of graffiti that decorate the interiors, as well as exteriors, of the buildings.  Here are some examples.

And here are some other shots on some exterior structures toward the back of the property.

This last is a detail shot that illustrates the amount of effort that has gone into these pieces.

As I have said elsewhere, I was struck by a number of things relating to the graffiti.  First, I really saw very little in the way of offensive language or symbols.  There were a few, but only a few, F-words, and I did see one swastika, but generally, the art was very "clean."  Second, most of the art was done on the interior of these buildings and will be seen by very few people.  That leads me to think that these artists are doing this for themselves, as well as their fellow artists, not for the general public.  Finally, I was very impressed by the artistic and technical talent the graffiti displayed.  Not only did the artists exhibit a definite flair, but a number of the pieces evidenced a good deal of design preparation.  It would be fun to watch or at least talk with some of these guys.



  1. Where exactly is this? Cross streets?

  2. It's on Greenfield Ave. at about 400 east, a road that dead-ends into the KK River. However, the last time I was there a few weeks ago, the site was under heavy construction, so I'm not sure how available it is for photography.