There’s no better way to avoid making eye contact with strangers on the Metro than gazing out the window. When you’re underground, unfortunately, the view is numbingly dull. But bust out of Union Station on the Red Line toward Glenmont, and you emerge into a world filled with light. And lots and lots of graffiti.
The spray-painted gallery that continues for miles along the east side of the Red Line has always intrigued Saaret Yoseph, 26, who grew up in D.C. and continues to hop on the Metro at either the Rhode Island Avenue or Brookland stop. So she decided to make a documentary about it for her graduate communication program at Georgetown.
After three years of interviews, research and editing, she’s presenting a rough cut of the entire two-parter for the first time on Saturday (see box).
Her blog — Redlinedc.wordpress.com — links to the first installment, “See Something, Say Something,” which looks at how riders respond to the images and who the graffiti artists are. “I was surprised that so many are white kids coming from the suburbs. There’s a big Bethesda crew,” Yoseph says.
What’s new is part two, a still-untitled exploration of where the graffiti has historically been placed and the development happening in those neighborhoods now.
“This is about the space and the changes taking place. In some ways, this area has been barren and industrial, but it’s traversed by people,” says Yoseph, who says those same people — Metro riders — are seeing the graffiti differently now that the stretch of the city is sprouting condos and commissioned murals. “It’s a conversation about access and aesthetics.”
Yoseph admits she started off with a romanticized view of graffiti and the mysterious artists who want to leave their mark. As she’s gotten closer to the subject matter, however, she’s become more open to the various perspectives on the issue.
Rather than provide answers, she says, the film leaves viewers with a question: “What should be seen in public space?”
One thing that’s clear is that this is powerful visual real estate. The graffiti artists take time to consider which way the trains will be approaching their work. And Yoseph has found that no matter whether the riders are fond of graffiti or sick of it, they all look at it.
The same goes for Yoseph, whose current fascination is with how the natural environment interacts with the graffiti and construction. She’s noticing how trees can obscure a view, only to drop their leaves and offer a big reveal.
That’s the kind of art she can create by picking up a camera, instead of a spray can.
Where to Watch
See a screening of both parts of Saaret Yoseph’s documentary project on Saturday at Bloombars (3222 11th St. NW) between noon and 2 p.m. Although Bloombars asks for a suggested $10 donation, it’s free to attend.