LDNGraffiti had the opportunity to talk to Frank Malt, aka 'Steam156', about his photographic career spanning 30 years, starting out in the early eighties following the true legends of the Graffiti scene.
I was quite a rebellious child, I hated school and hated being told what to do by people. I liked to be rebellious, I guess that's why I became a graffiti writer and why I found the whole art form exciting. Going out tagging your name, walking along train tracks getting chased etc. I loved seeing graffiti and finding graffiti it was more of a hunt back then and exciting, not like today where you can go on a website and see the work with in hours of it appearing on a wall.
Back then there was not too many photographers I knew about. I kind of kept myself to myself and did my own thing. I was in touch with people like Henry Chalfant in NYC, James Prigoff in San Francisco, and also a few others. I knew about people like Martin Jones who was taking great photos back then in the UK, He was Goldie's manager and played a big part in promoting graffiti in the UK , He was responsible for the Bridlington World Street Art Championships, and also some very famous graffiti shows like Rocking the City with TATS Cru from the USA. Henry C put me in touch with Fade2 from Nonstop Art, he also took great photos and captured some of the early walls that was painted in areas like Westbourne park in London.
I got in touch with a guy called Schmidlap, who ran the very famous IGT magazine in NYC and they printed my name and address on the back of their magazine saying I was looking for people to trade photos with. The response I got from that was amazing, this was around I think 1987/88 I started hearing from writers all around the world and started getting around 14 letters a week. I was getting packages from Australia, France, Denmark, all over the world. It was incredible, but a lot of hard work replying to people and getting photos copied to send out etc and paying for postage bills.
I guess what keeps me going these days is my love for this art form, but must say I have not got the energy some of these younger new photographers have that are on the scene today. 25 years ago I would be out Saturday and Sunday, and if I could during the week to try and get photos, I was hooked, it was like a drug. But now i must say a Saturday is enough for me these days, and Sunday I just like to veg out indoors but still stuck in front of a computer sorting out god knows how many photos.
It's funny how things have changed, some good some bad; 25 years ago if you were walking around Westbourne park with a camera you would get robbed and beaten and your camera stolen, 25 years ago to do a join up of photos you would use a scalpel, sticky tape, ruler, now you just bung it in some software and it's done. 25 years ago there was no Flickr etc, you could go see a wall and you would be able to get a exclusive photo with out trying not to see it on half a dozen media sites. 25 years ago there was not much competition between photographers you used what you had - no photoshop, no lightbox etc, a photo was a photo. So some things change for the better and some things don't, there is still life in the old dog yet!
No I don't class myself as a writer much these days, back then I loved tagging, bombing, going to train yards, walking along the train tracks etc, One thing I hated was doing pieces. I just did not have the patience to stand by a wall for 8 or 9 hours painting it was just not exciting for me. Last year when I was in Rome, I did go paint a train with some friends of mine which was a real buzz after all these years, and when I was in Basel switzerland last year I spent a lot of time exploring the train lines which is always great fun to do.
I have so many memories some good, some bad I guess. Going to Dondi's apartment, eating pizza and looking thru all his pics was real cool, and him giving me one of his drawings was real nice of him considering that was are first time we met , Looking thru all of Henry Chalfants photos at his studio on my first ever visit to NYC was great, and then Quik and Seen turning up made the day, Meeting Hex from Los angeles back in 1990 was cool and going to Knots Berry Farm with him and some others was great, Visiting Futura at his studio in NYC back in 1990 amazing. Going walking along the Amtrak lines with Iz The Wiz (RIP) and Sar and Sach in NYC was great , so many memories.
Not to sure on weirdest moment but I will tell you one of the scariest , It was my first trip to NYC think around 87/88 I knew no-one there apart from Henry C, so my first day I spent at his studio looking thru all his train pics, Henry put me in touch with this young writer that lived in the Bronx and we arranged to meet up. I wanted to go visit the 238th street bridge spot that was in spray can art so he took me up there. We jumped the fence and got onto the train lines and started looking at the graff. From behind the pillars out jumped about six guys with rocks and bats, shouting "let's get them mother fuckers", throwing rocks etc, Well I took off running down the train tracks trying to dodge the rocks being thrown, while running along the tracks I had an Amtrack train running by the side of me tooting me to get off the line, I ran to the next bridge climbed the fence and had to try and find a subway station in the South Bronx, I am not going to lie, I nearly crapped myself that day, my heart was pumping so fast, it was in pain in my stomach, I lived to tell the tale...
I will say Mrs Steam is pretty damn cool when it comes to graff , she isn't obsessed like me of course but she puts up with it, I'm surprised she does not get more pissed off with me over the whole graffiti thing. For example every holiday even a chilled out relax by the beach holiday ends up her renting a car and driving me to some hall of fame or to meet some writers. She once drove from San Francisco to LA so I could see graffiti, she also drove from Florida to Miami so I could get pictures, she is a god-send at times, so fair play to her.
I have a street art book coming out in March with a company in Sweden which should be pretty good, I am hoping the people I did 100 UK writers with are going to do a Volume 2, so all the people I could not fit in Volume 1 get a chance to be in a rather cool book. Other plans i'm always travelling to go get pics from some place or another so no doubt I will be checking out a few places this year and going to some of the big events around Europe.
Ahhh, those dreaded words, "Aerosol Planet"... Well the site has now been down for around 10 months now but I have heard there is a light at the end of the tunnel so wait and see.
Too many shout-outs to do, but give big respect to the following snappers from back in the day, Martin Jones, Fade2, Dek, also Dave Logic, Sammi Montague, Toby Willsmer, Lee102, and many, many others. Many thanks Joe (LDNGraffiti) and keep up all your good work with your website.
Steam156 - TNB-The Nasty Boyz... 156 Nation...
Many thanks to Frank for the interview and all the great photo's. All the very best with your projects. Keep up the great work!
© LDNGraffiti / Frank Malt