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The graffiti hunter, continued

Related Links

Wooster Collective

New York City–based Web site that posts photos of street art from all over the world.

Neck Face fotolog

Neck Face sightings from all over the globe.

Art Crimes

Online international graffiti resource with photos, event listings, and magazine links.


After growing up a graffiti-watching skater in Leominster, Greggebee eventually got tired of graf’s strictly ruled tag-scrawl.

"Straight up, graffiti got boring," he says. "It was exciting when I was first getting into it, but eventually [in Boston], nobody was doing anything extraordinary or different. Characters are portraits, and they say so much more. Just about anybody can do letters, but to get an expression and a feeling across takes a lot more."

The first face Greggebee ever photographed was on a metal door across from his Roxbury loft. A wiggly lined specter with lower-case E’s for eyes and a triangle mouth, the ghostly character stared at him every day. He took a photo of it with a brand-new digital camera. Then more faces started to appear on his street — forlorn-looking green heads — so he took photos of those, too.

From there, photographing faces quickly became a hobby, then a habit. Within the first few months of the project, he’d planned to self-publish a small, homemade artists’ book of what he’d shot. But then he kept going. And going. Acquaintances would show up at his Boston loft for parties and be handed a photo book of face prints. Holidays gradually transformed from idle vacation days to low-traffic opportunities to traverse typically gridlocked highways more safely; Greggebee spent last Christmas morning biking out to an I-93 overpass to shoot a Bruce Lee profile stenciled onto a wooden construction plank. This past July Fourth, he and a good friend biked down to Storrow Drive, which was closed for the Pops concert; they posed beside a graffiti-style bear face the way most tourists would pose with the Paul Revere statue.

Portraits in traditional galleries have never held the same appeal. "A face in a gallery doesn’t have that raw, gritty feel," he says. "It’s already a commodity. The artists who paint in the streets or by the tracks not only give that whole right [to sell their work] up, they’re forcing it upon you."


At times, the sheer volume of Greggebee’s collection became so overwhelming that he had to force himself to take breaks. "The work had far exceeded my capacity to deal with it," he admits. His archive consists of a disorganized box full of film prints, a thick CD-wallet of data discs carrying 70 or 80 photos each, and two or three CD-spindle stacks filled with flicks. He really has no idea how many faces he’s shot. Thousands. Maybe tens of thousands.

As they’ve piled up, he began to notice connections. For one thing, street faces tend to be like footprints. "One leads you around a corner and all of a sudden there’s five more." Also, street artists like to draw drunk-looking faces with X’s for eyes. "I have a billion of those sad, dead things." Not surprisingly, they like to sketch faces getting high. "If it’s smoldering from the mouth, it’s a doobie," says Greggebee, laughing. "Even if it looks like a little cigar stub, it’s definitely a doobie."

He’s also documented the transformation of specific walls. Earlier this year, Greggebee spotted a red-and-white insect he started calling a "Cootie" on a concrete wall parallel to the Mass Pike. He had an older photo of a pink-and-white cartoony face with a giant waggling tongue emerging from a hurriedly constructed throw-up piece there in that same spot. He hadn’t seen anything else like it in Boston, so he wanted to get the Cootie. He needed the Cootie. He had to have the Cootie.

The night before he planned to shoot the Cootie, he couldn’t sleep. He finally gave up around 6 am, hopped on his bike, and headed down to the Pike. To get a good shot, he had to jump a fence and then climb down to a blind spot along the tracks. He did it, and got the flick. He even found a few more faces down there: a whiskered kitty head, another Andre the Giant.

A few days after he’d caught the Cootie, I went over to Greggebee’s Roxbury loft, a vast apartment of hardwood floors that once held built-in skate ramps, so we could browse through his face-photo collection. Above his computer desk was the Cootie — a cartoony bugger flanked by the wiry tag jime and a spray-painted orange cheese wedge — displayed proudly like a hunting trophy. The tag was in the same color paint as the vermin: did Jime — whoever that might be — draw the Cootie? That was one possibility. "It goes back to the old style of characters with the big eyes," Greggebee said, encircling the bug with his forefinger. "It could be a kid, but it could be a younger writer who just doesn’t have the skills, or someone who’s just modeling it after something from the ’80s."

That’s one of the things that keeps Greggebee fascinated with these faces: who created them? In the past, he’s found retired graf writers who painted a bunch of the faces he’s shot. But others, he likes to think, have more interesting histories. Like the one he took four years ago on a Central Square bank’s concrete pillar — a messy sketch of a suited man. "There’s this guy who walks around with a scaly cap on. He used to carry rolled-up drawings. He’d always be saying stuff like, ‘Yuppie scum!’ He’s absolutely out of his tree, nuts as all hell. I’m convinced that he drew it."

Greggebee knows that he’s obsessed. "My whole world revolves around walls," he acknowledges. But he isn’t alone.

When we’re on the tracks, a kid comes up behind us. He’s skinny, with a chin strap of facial hair. He passes us quickly, but stops maybe 100 feet in front of us, reaches into his backpack, pulls out a camera, and begins to photograph the graffiti on the walls. Greggebee has never seen him before, but he knows why he’s here.

"He’s a writer," says Greggebee. "He’s just fronting."

Then the kid moves on. Just another disappearing face.

Camille Dodero can be reached at cdodero[a]phx.com.

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Issue Date: August 12 - 18, 2005
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