All pictures below are from Steve Grody's "Graffiti" archive.
1. You briefly touch upon this in your book, Graffiti L.A., and I'm sure you've been asked this before. Why graffiti?
I started taking photos of graffiti for two reasons; because it was an interesting creative new thing, and because it disappeared or got covered over quickly and as far as I knew, no one was preserving a record of it.
2. Why did you decide to write this book?
As I started to buy the few books on graffiti available at that time (early '90s), it seemed to me that there were interesting things about the aesthetics of graffiti that were not being written about, so by the late '90s I sent out proposals to publishers, but nobody was interested at that time. Now there is a glut of books.
3. You have some amazing photos in Graffiti L.A. Did you start taking pictures so early on because you always knew you were going to write a book?
I originally was only thinking of taking pictures for myself and for the pleasure of finding cool work.
4. The author of Subway Art, James Prigoff, wrote the foreword to your book. Was he your inspiration for writing Graffiti L.A.?
Subway Art (Chalfont and Cooper) and Spraycan Art (Prigoff and Chalfont) were the first two books available about the modern movement, so sure, those books are classics and the shoulders any later books are standing on. Further, after I met Jim Prigoff some years ago, I had a chance to show him my archive and how I was organizing my slides, and he was glad to see someone focusing on L.A. in that way, and since then he has been very generous with his very valuable advice on dealing with things on a professional level.
For that matter, the book would not have come about were it not for him: He called me up in 2005 and told me that Graffiti World had done sold so much better than the publishers had expected, that they would probably be open to a book by me and that I should get on it and approach them. Not only that, but he said don't just propose a book on general graffiti, but specifically about L.A. because that's where my knowledge was.
5. It is apparent that you are very knowledgeable about graffiti. Did you ever do graffiti yourself?
I never did graffiti, but I have always been interested in letterforms, doing bubble letters as a kid in the late '50s and progressing to psychedelic poster art in the '60s. My college degree is in painting, drawing and photography, so it's that background that I related to graffiti with.
6. You have pictures of the works of many established Los Angeles writers in your book. How did you decide whose work to showcase?
That was a challenging thing do. I decided several ways. First, when going through my archive, who was up consistently at least for a period of time that could be considered a contribution to the scene. Second, who had a really strong personal style and technique. And third, as I interviewed writers from the various generations, I'd ask them who they thought the most important writers were to represent. That was interesting, because while I always really liked Charlie or Panic, for example, I wouldn't have known how influential they were without talking to writers.
7. Lately, I have attended galleries featuring the works of graffiti writers. Do you think that graffiti has to be illegal to be graffiti?
Well, really you're talking about two issues here. One is about a definition of graffiti and the other is a whether it's legit to do in a gallery setting. Many writers simply make a distinction; graffiti is the illegal street work, and graffiti art is what you do in a gallery. Opinions vary on whether it's legitimate to do in a gallery setting, but by and large, what's important to writers regarding someone doing graff in galleries is whether they have history, that is, they've been doing illegal risk-taking street work for enough years to be respected.
8. What makes Graffiti L.A. so special is all the comments from so many of L.A.'s writers. How were you able to get commentaries from so many them?
I am honored to accepted in that world. I started documenting at the famous Belmont Tunnel and when I would run into someone, I would talk to them a bit and I guess I didn't have a "cop" energy about me, so they would tell me about another yard, say Sanborn, and then I would be there consistently enough that kids there would trust me and tell me about other yards.
So over the years I've met a lot of writers although it did take years in some cases to be trusted or to meet people whose work I had been shooting for a long time. When it came time to do interviews for the book, writers that I knew helped put me in touch with writers that were important to talk to that I didn't have contacts for. A number that I interviewed were reticent because they had been so misrepresented in other interviews, but everyone was really pleased with the result this time, I'm glad to say.
Their comments are so lively and thoughtful, it really surprises outsiders that read the book and thought all graffiti writers are just knucklehead gang kids. Actually, they book changed form as I worked on the interviews because when more than one person brought up a topic, say continually evolving your work, then that became something I'd ask others about and that's how a number of topics came to be written about.