James Prigoff, Who Documented Street Art, Dies at 93

James Prigoff, who just after beginning his vocation in enterprise turned his consideration to pictures,…

James Prigoff, who just after beginning his vocation in enterprise turned his consideration to pictures, documenting general public murals and street art in 1000’s of images taken all above the globe and assisting to legitimize operates at the time dismissed as vandalism, died on April 21 at his household in Sacramento, Calif. He was 93.

His granddaughter Perri Prigoff verified his death.

Mr. Prigoff was the author, with Henry Chalfant, of “Spraycan Art” (1987), a foundational ebook in the street-art discipline that showcased additional than 200 photos of vibrant, intricate artworks in rail tunnels, on buildings and elsewhere — not only in New York, then considered by a lot of to be the epicenter of graffiti art, but also in Chicago, Los Angeles, Barcelona, London, Vienna and other towns. It involved interviews with several of the artists and even captured some of them in the act of making their operate.

The guide offered hundreds of thousands of copies. Mr. Chalfant, in a mobile phone interview, claimed a British newspaper had also presented it a considerably less fiscally gratifying distinction: It explained “Spraycan Art” was the next-most-stolen book in London. (The most stolen book, Mr. Chalfant mentioned, was the very similar “Subway Art,” which he and Martha Cooper experienced posted three yrs before.)

“Spraycan Art” arrived out at a time when avenue artwork had grown quite advanced but the artists who made it were being still regarded by many as mere vandals. Mr. Prigoff, in subsequent books and in the talks he gave, argued if not.

“‘Vandalism’ might be a make a difference of place of watch, but it is obviously artwork,” he told The Push-Telegram of Lengthy Seaside, Calif., in 2007. “Museums and collectors obtain it, corporations co-choose it, and it matches all the dictionary definitions of artwork.”

All those who dismiss avenue artwork, he contended, are lacking its importance. That was undoubtedly the case for the prolonged-marginalized Black artists he and Robin J. Dunitz documented in the reserve “Walls of Heritage, Partitions of Delight: African American Murals” (2000).

“Given confined obtain to the more official art venues,” Mr. Prigoff wrote in the preface, “African-American artists selected the streets and other public areas to produce images that challenged detrimental messages.”

In a 1993 discuss in Vancouver, British Columbia, he decried what he called a double regular in metropolitan areas that ongoing to carry out a war on graffiti even though allowing for billboards for Camel cigarettes, with their images of Joe Camel.

“You inform me what is uglier,” he challenged the viewers, “a wall of spray-can art or the cartoon character with the phallic encounter?”

James Burton Prigoff was born on Oct. 29, 1927, in Queens. His father, Harold, was a mechanical engineer, and his mom, Fannie Bassin Prigoff, was a homemaker who the spouse and children explained graduated from Syracuse Legislation College.

Mr. Prigoff grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., and graduated from New Rochelle Substantial University at 16. He examined industrial engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating in 1947. Among the the positions he held in the enterprise earth had been division president at Levi Strauss and senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation in Chicago.

He very first created headlines not for his photography but for his squash taking part in: “Prigoff Triumphs in Squash Tennis Beats Bacallao to Gain 6th U.S. Title in 8 Several years,” read a person in The New York Moments in April 1967.

Mr. Prigoff explained that his desire in avenue artwork and community murals was piqued in the mid-1970s when he attended a lecture by Victor A. Sorell, an art historian who had been documenting the perform of Hispanic avenue artists in Chicago.

“I swiftly located that documenting murals happy 3 interests that strongly inspired me,” he wrote in the preface to “Walls of Heritage.” “I savored images, I highly regarded the community facet of community art, and I had a sturdy problem for social and political justice — usually the matter issue of street artwork.”

He retired from the company entire world in 1987 and two yrs later on settled in Sacramento. He continued to go after his passion for photographing public murals of all forms, sanctioned and or else.

“Sometimes it normally takes a ebook to enable us ‘see’ the artistic merit of sites we travel or stroll by each day,” Patricia Holt wrote in 1997 in The San Francisco Chronicle, examining “Painting the Cities: Murals of California,” an earlier Prigoff-Dunitz collaboration.

Mr. Prigoff, who also photographed archaeological websites, considered street art as section of a quite extended historical chain.

“Go back hundreds of several years,” he informed The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1995. “People have been crafting their names in the damnedest sites for so extensive.”

One particular of his favourite towns for mural looking was Philadelphia, and in 2015 he lent 1,500 images he experienced taken there to Mural Arts Philadelphia, where Steve Weinik, the electronic archivist, has been operating to develop an archive of them.

“Jim was early to understand the truth that graffiti is the two legitimate art and ephemeral,” Mr. Weinik stated by electronic mail. “He recognized that the photograph was the record, and worked to doc graffiti and murals at a time when virtually no 1 else regarded these things. His pictures and his press to share it with the globe aided to both of those preserve and validate the do the job.”

Mr. Prigoff loved to travel, and he took pictures almost everywhere he went. One particular seemingly harmless photograph landed him in scorching h2o, and in a civil go well with against the U.S. Office of Justice. In 2004 he was near Boston and took a photo of the so-called Rainbow Swash, a colorfully painted fuel storage tank.

“Private safety guards submitted a suspicious activity report on Mr. Prigoff only since he photographed community art on a all-natural fuel storage tank in the Boston space,” Hugh Handeyside, senior staff members legal professional for the Nationwide Safety Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, mentioned by e mail, “and F.B.I. agents later frequented him at his household in Sacramento and questioned his neighbors about him.”

Mr. Prigoff became a single of numerous plaintiffs in a 2014 lawsuit in opposition to the Justice Department contending that, in its zeal just after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the govt was overreaching in its definition of “suspicious action.” The fit, Mr. Handeyside stated, ultimately failed to alter policy, but Mr. Prigoff considered the concern was crucial.

“I lived by the McCarthy era,” he wrote of the incident, “so I know how fake accusations, surveillance and trying to keep files on harmless persons can demolish their occupations and lives.”

Mr. Prigoff’s spouse of 72 decades, Arline Wyner Prigoff, died in 2018. He is survived by two sons, Wayne and Bruce two daughters, Lynn Lidstone and Gail Nickerson 11 grandchildren and eight fantastic-grandchildren.

Mr. Chalfant stated that Mr. Prigoff experienced just just lately despatched him photos that he had shot of Sacramento all through the coronavirus pandemic.

“He took photos all all over the town,” Mr. Chalfant said, “of the emptiness of it.”