Graffiti is typically an unwanted eyesore, fleeting by nature. But it can also reflect the mood of a city and a generation. Now German institutions are documenting digital photos of graffiti to preserve and study them.
It's usually done in secret under the cover of night and often by teens under age 18, who are armed with cans of spray paint.
Graffiti is less about creating street art and more about making a statement with words. It's these statements that researchers at the University of Paderborn and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) aim to record with their new graffiti database, set to launch on April 1.
Initially, the digital databank, known as InGriD (Informationssystem Graffiti in Deutschland), will start with some 50,000 photos of graffiti from the Mannheim police department. An additional 70,000 photographs from Mannheim, Cologne and Munich, taken between the years 1983 and 2015, are currently being analyzed.
"It's about conducting basic research. Until now, graffiti has only played a marginal role in research - and it's not exactly part of the canon of art history," Martin Papenbrock from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology told German news agency dpa.
He added that 90 percent of graffiti is text-based, which means that it can reveal a great deal about the sentiment of the young generation.
"We want to research the city as a linguistic landscape," Doris Tophinke from the University of Paderborn told dpa.
The project is to be expanded to include some 500,000 photos from 30 cities across Germany.
While other countries maintain graffiti databases, like the Graffiti Analysis Intelligence Tracking System (GAITS) in the United States, they are often used to identify sprayers and charge them with vandalism, rather than to catalogue the tags purely for research purposes.
"Sometimes there is graffiti with small messages like 'love' or hate,'" said Tophinke, adding that there was also a tag in Paderborn that simply read, "tired."
"That's nearly poetic," she added.
kbm/ss (with dpa)