Rambling our way along the L and G subway lines, photographer Lavinia Pisani and I wind through Brooklyn’s street maze in search of candy-colored walls. First stop: the Bedford L, where a swarm of androgynous faces and ironic tattoos funnel out into the sun. Through the herd, we head down N 6th St. towards Kent and Wythe, zigzagging around food trucks, sidewalk vendors, and organically-carved wooden benches.
The dwindling hipster Mecca we call Williamsburg can easily be traversed by foot (though I say that as a city person; exert yourself at your own risk). From there, it’s back on the (Bedford or Lorimer) L that we ride a few stops further towards the Jefferson stop. This area, fairly known to street artists and graffiti voyeurs alike, has come to be known as Bushwick Collective’s stomping grounds—where St. Nicholas Street intersects with Troutman Street in, you guessed it, Bushwick. It has a plethora of vibrantly muraled walls and, if you’re lucky, you’ll even catch one of Bushwick Collective’s block parties, which I must say are pretty dope. From there we continue our trek towards the JMZ Walls—just off the Myrtle Av J-M-Z line—where Bushwick meets Bedstuy.
In recent years, street art has not only re-emerged but gone mainstream. From social issues on a national and international scale to neutral, apolitical visual stimulants, street art has and continues to allow artists a public platform to vocalize and express their values and individual ideals. And unlike much of the tags you’ll find littered throughout New York, it’s almost always visually impressive. So regardless of whether you are New York-based or just visiting the city, this is your guide to shooting street art in Brooklyn.
Williamsburg and Greenpoint
Near the Bedford L line, in what I’ve come to call “Beardville,” Williamsburg and Greenpoint are neighborhoods filled with a ton of graffiti walls (though perhaps not quite en masse as you’ll find further out). Now that street art is not only legal but encouraged, you’ll likely find the occasional street artist jamming out a commissioned piece for a local business in the daytime hours. First and foremost: Don’t bother them. Remember, they’re technically working, but from what I’ve experienced, most artists don’t mind you taking photos (hell, it’s good publicity for their art), so feel free to shoot their work; just respect your typical manners and common sense when doing so.
In Williamsburg, it’s best to get off near the Bedford (or even Lorimer) L stop; a lot of artists tend to gravitate towards Kent and Wythe, or along N 6th Street and even Bedford Avenue itself. It’s a walking neighborhood, so you won’t need to hop around on the subway line. And if you’re coming from the city and feeling a bit more ambitious, you could always walk across the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn—and there’s always Uber or Lyft for the super lazy.
According to our photographer Lavinia, the best time to start shooting is the late afternoon. Reason being, is that the light works best against the vibrant colors when it’s later in the day, and harsh lighting will only result in over-exposed photos (hence her laughter at my naïve request to meet at 10 a.m.). If shooting later on, say after 6 p.m., it’s a good idea to bring a tripod, as the dwindling light will cause your photos to need longer shutter speeds.
Near Meserole and Bushwick Avenue and, in particular, St. Nicholas and Troutman (both in Bushwick), you’ll come upon walls and walls of painted bliss; this is essentially the current Mecca (with the JMZ Walls competing for the title) of Brooklyn street art. Dozens of artists from all over the world come here to paint in their signature style—from Fumeroism to Jorit Agoch to Shiro One.
Just off the L lines (Morgan stop and Jefferson stop, specifically) is where you’ll find these gems, with the majority of the Bushwick Collective’s trove in the St. Nicholas and Troutman fold. As it’s a much more known and condensed area than say, the JMZ Walls, it tends to get a lot of traffic and you can be sure that you won’t be the only one taking photos. That said, the area creates a haven for artists and artistic-minds alike, and as I mentioned earlier if you can make it to one of the summer block-parties, do it.
Further down, southwest to be precise, where Bushwick runs into Bedstuy, is an area advancing fast on the Brooklyn street art scene: the JMZ Walls. Initiated in 2014, the JMZ Walls began when “a longtime neighborhood resident saw an opportunity to invigorate the community through street art… [and JMZ Walls was] motivated by the idea that urban art has the power to influence its surrounding environments, educate and inspire residents, and shape the experience of visitors,” according to grafftour.com
Situated just under and around the elevated train line, this area is becoming a street artist’s playground. With peeling walls quickly primed and painted over into aesthetic neighborhood gems, artists are slowly beginning to flock to this area in lieu of blank canvases.
The main stop to jump off is the Myrtle Av-Broadway J-M-Z, which will spit you out atop the elevated train line. Down below and all along either side of the train, you’ll find long stretches of graffiti in the style of both contemporary and what is known as the “golden era of New York subway art” (circa 1970’s), which nods at how graffiti has evolved and what it has evolved from.
So whether you’re a born-and-bred New Yorker, longtime resident or a brand-new visitor, Brooklyn’s street art continues to illustrate and define the community and culture from which it emerged; within each defined space, a sub-culture has amassed, bringing with it an understanding of the city’s history, it’s current life, and it’s future story.