Bill Wishner – De/Faced

Review by Wayne Swanson

Ah, street art and graffiti — the color, the raw energy, the in-your-face graphics. They are such inviting targets for photographers. But how do you make them your own? Photographer Bill Wishner succeeds by going beyond mere documentation to turn them into collaborations. 

Wishner spent seven years traveling to cities in North America, South America, and Europe to gather imagery for his Art of the City Wall project. De/Faced is his second monograph about the project. The first, Artifacts, used selective framing to re-contextualize the images, as well as jazz-like improvisation to sequence them. (Wishner began his career as a jazz photographer.) Like his first book, De/Faced explores the lyrical and poetic qualities of street art and graffiti. But Wishner is not just a passive observer. Instead, he engages in a conversation with the art on the wall to add his own creativity.

De/Faced focuses on the faces he found in street art. The clever title references both his facial emphasis and the fact that street art/graffiti is often dismissed as mere defacement of walls. Wishner celebrates these ephemeral works of art and extends their meaning by pairing them with his own words and poetry. His selective framing highlights the faces, and his words provide a context that humanizes them even more.

In some cases, his words function as simple captions or titles. In others, he says, “I’ve added a short narrative or prose poem using my creative voice to imagine what those on the wall might be saying to me or the passing viewer.” Some of his annotations are thought-provoking, others are playful. They are just one man’s interpretation, but they invite us to take a fresh look at the artwork. We may discover something new, or think of our own interpretation. The result is a more personal interaction, and his image/word combinations become new pieces of art. 

Street art and graffiti often have a short shelf life. They are subject to assault by taggers and the whims municipal regulators. More likely than not, the imagery will be embellished or defaced by subsequent street artists and taggers or whitewashed by the authorities. But at least Wishner has immortalized one moment in time. As he notes, “I imagined each face had a story. They said ‘look at me . . . I was here . . . I am here.’”

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The first book about Wishner’s Art of the City Wall project, Artifacts, was also reviewed on PhotoBook Journal.  

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De/Faced, Bill Wishner 

Photographer: Bill Wishner, born Philadelphia, PA, resides Pasadena, CA, (USA)

Self-published, Pasadena CA copyright 2019

Essays: Ibarionex Perello, Bill Wishner

Text: English

Stiff cover book, perfect binding, four-color lithography, list of plates, 8.75 x 12 inches, 65 pages, printed in Los Angeles, CA

Photobook designer: Cheri Gray/Sophie Brotman

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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