The Complexity and Intricacy of Graffiti Tags: Interview with Stef Sutton
Stef has been practicing photography for about 10 years, starting with film in college. She gained an AA in Photography and later a BA in Art History and Museum Studies. Since then, she has worked with various Philadelphia museums and nonprofits such as the Penn Museum, Rosenbach Museum & Library and the Stedman Gallery at Rutgers University-Camden. She currently works full-time as Executive Assistant at the National Museum of American Jewish History and serves on the board of AIGA Philadelphia—a local chapter of the National graphic design organization—as Communications Director, practicing photography in her free time and through her travels around the city of Philadelphia.
The birthplace of graffiti and home to its own unique style of writing, Philly is filled with various forms of street art, yet tags are often the most overlooked form of street art, often appearing on (and quickly disappearing from) dumpsters, construction equipment, and the walls of abandoned buildings. In photographing tags, I hope to highlight the complexity and intricacy of this artform and the diversity of the artists that create them.
By Sarah Mills
Tell us a little bit about your background in the arts.
I’ve had a love for art and have a B.A. in Art History. I’ve worked in various Museums and nonprofits and have been introduced to many different forms of art. Art is something I’ll never get bored of.
Were you always interested in tags? What was it that drew you to them?
I’ve always been interested in graffiti in general and tags seemed like the very underappreciated form of graffiti. Everyone likes the big, colorful pieces but less people notice tags—which are just about everywhere. Philly’s tags are surprisingly intricate and are unique to the artists creating them. I love when I’m able to recognize tags throughout the city. I’m trying to figure out a way to add that skill to my resume.
How has photographing artists tags helped you connect with that art community?
Taggers aren’t easy to find when they’re even on social media, so in attempting to attribute tags to the right people, it takes research and asking around which in turn has helped me connect with the community.
What is your favorite part of your artistic process?
I’m still new to this world of tags, so my favorite part of the process is when people—artists and/or other graffiti enthusiasts—help me identify tags when I post on Instagram.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given in your art career that you would like to pass on to our readers?
I hate the word networking, but it really is the best advice I’ve been given and pass on. Attending gallery openings and other art events is the easiest way to meet other creatives. But even if you aren’t meeting people in person, finding creatives on social media and following their work is really inspirational—it’s also how a lot of really cool collaborations can start.
In your bio you state that you practice photography in your free time, how do you find balance and make time for your art?
I carry my camera with me every where I go, which makes finding time to practice A LOT easier. I can shoot before work, during a lunch break, or on my way to a meeting or event. I’ve also found that having a hobby outside of my regular 9-5 job has been beneficial to my mental health so I really do make an effort to make time for photography whether it’s actually shooting or researching and discovering other photographers.
What do you hope viewers will take away from your photographs?
I hope that my photographs encourage people to find and appreciate all forms of art. There’s something oddly beautiful about a sharp, crisp tag on a blank wall, door, or dumpster.