Playing Witness To The Street Art Of Wynwood

Nov 19, 2016

Andrew Kaufman has written a trilogy of art books that have a massive collection of his photographs of the street art in Wynwood. He will be presenting a special - Writer's Bench - program at the Miami Book Fair on Sunday at 2:30 PM. I recently spoke with him about what inspired him to produce three books on the subject of Wynwood Street Art.

The project really came about because every year during Art Basel I make a photo essay. And in 2012 I couldn't ignore what was happening on the streets of Wynwood. I immersed myself in the street art scene there and came away with a photo essay. I started sharing that photo essay with some colleagues and they inspired me enough to make a book of that essay. And that first book is “I'm in Miami, Bitch: The Disappearing Street Art of Wynwood.”

What was it that launched that (street art in Wynwood), was it any particular artist or group of artists, and why there?

There was a small group of artists who weren't getting shown in the galleries and they wanted to express themselves during Art Basel. So they took to the streets. And that really started the momentum about I don't know, eight, nine years ago.

Andrew Kaufman following the artists in Wynwood
Credit http://www.iminmiamibitch.net/blog/

I'm thinking of people who've actually never been there. How would you describe it [Wynwood] to somebody?

Twenty years ago it was a warehouse garment district that just had trucks dropping off, delivering, and picking up garments for the fashion industry. Today it's an entertainment district. It's a full blown, every weekend party and food truck bonanza. What makes it interesting -- the neighborhood -- is that sprinkled in is probably the most intense mural district of anywhere in the world, in addition to a lot of galleries art galleries. So that juxtaposition sort of creates this unique environment. And I have a quote from one of the artists -- it's the Miami thing to do to turn it into a party. And that's what essentially happened. Initially it was supposed to be a fine art district but it's turned into a party. I think if you're true art gallery and your interest is philosophizing and intellectualizing about art that that's not necessarily the right place for you.

How long do you think the party will last? Because artists come in and all of a sudden that community becomes valuable and developers see that and will eventually exploit it.

It’s an ongoing concern. I think a lot of the early pioneers of the neighborhood have figured out that they need the street art and sort of the authenticity to survive or to prosper.

I enjoy watching how there are constant photo shoots in Wynwood.

That's kind of a phenomenon that used to happen in South Beach. Wynwood has become the new South Beach. When I finished my education I moved to South Beach. It was a really early 90s, 92, 93, and at that time sort of on every street corner there was a photo shoots going on -- a bikini a sun dress, and you know there were girls lined up.

Is that a good or bad thing?

Well people use that backdrop to sort of try to add legitimacy or credibility to whatever they're trying to perpetrate or visualize. It's where you go to be immortalized.

Andrew Kaufman covering the street art in Wynwood in his trilogy of books.
Credit http://www.iminmiamibitch.net/blog/

Without getting too wonky into the techie stuff of photography, how do you set up a shot of an artist working?

None of the pictures are set up whatsoever. My background is as a documentary photographer. There's a code of ethics that goes with documentary photography and that means that I'm there as a witness. I don't control or conceive or tell people what to do in any way shape or form. I'm letting real life unfold. Wynwood is a fishbowl. Especially at these cafes that has a view out onto the street. And it used to be that artists would paint when nobody would know what they were doing and nobody would see them and there was no crowd, but it's almost like a rock concert there. Now, there’s so many people and their selfie-sticks and their cell phones and their digital cameras. I know a lot of the people who have pioneered Wynwood and I've seen it grow. My goal was to make an authentic photo essay about the neighborhood and that's what this trilogy of books does. I go out with a camera and a pocketful of film and I'm making photographs the old fashioned way in the analog style. So what you see is what you get. I don't manipulate the scenes in any way. I'm interested in their art work because that's inspiring. I'm more interested in sort of their interactivity with the streets in the community and the environment. And that's what I'm trying to capture is what does it feel like to be on the streets there. And I think you could see in the progression of the books because they're about a year apart.

How do you describe what Art Basel is to the community and does it sync in with what's happening in Wynwood?

Wynwood is the democratization of art because the threshold for getting a wall is a lot lower, or maybe higher, or just different than getting your work to be shown in a gallery. And Art Basel in Miami Beach is a world away from Wynwood. Some of the artists crossover, those are the lucky few, and the very hardworking ones are the ones that have a style that transcends the street. But for the most part those are two different orbiting worlds and in a way Wynwood is sort of the every man's Art Basel.

On Sunday at 2:30 Andrew will be at the Miami Book Fair for the Writer's Bench.