About five years ago I posted pictures here of some alleyways and dumpsters in West Lafayette, Indiana. For some reason I am fascinated by the secrets hiding behind the scenes in urban areas. Well-kept storefronts and urban planning can spruce up a city street, but it's an artificial beauty. Garbage piles, abandoned vehicles, and dumpsters - there is no superficiality in these things. On the other hand, there's a whole underground of people who fill these spaces graffiti, just because they can. What we get is a fascinating world filled with garbage and decay that we are programmed to ignore. A city is all slight of hand, distracting us with trees and polished windows to keep us from noticing the unavoidable filth that humanity leaves behind.
For the last year, I've lived in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. Chicago is a much larger city than West Lafayette, and so it has a great deal more filth to hide away. I've been meaning to capture some of it with my camera, and recently I finally did.
Wicker Park is the area around Milwaukee Avenue, from about Chicago Avenue in the South to about Armitage in the North. Hundreds of stores, from expensive boutique shops that hipsters shop at to the used clothing stores they want us all to think they shop at can be found there.
The intersection of Milwaukee, Damen, and North Avenues is like the center of a big, dumb hipster bike. Stupid hipsters.
The intersection also features quite a few back alleys.
Some alleys are pretty well organized and reasonably clean.
Almost any surface that isn't regularly watched for such things is covered with stickers and labels. Apparently a regular graffiti dude trick is to use stick-on labels to easily tag surfaces. A local graffiti dude called "Weed Wolf" really loves this trick.
Here's a window right on North Avenue. Its only shelter is the scaffolding which has been set up around it for a while. I wonder what has to happen to make a surface suitable for graffiti.
This dumpster says "Helter Skelter." I'm not sure what the point of tagging dumpsters is. Maybe that means he owns the dumpster, in graffiti dude circles, or maybe they're just trying to score as many points as possible. A dumpster certainly isn't worth that many graffiti points.
Often alleys haven't been re-built or resurfaced as much as the streets that surround them. These old bricks have probably been here for a very long time.
This truck probably has, too. I wonder if they put it there specifically to be graffiti'd, or if it has just slowly been consumed by graffiti dudes seeking mad graffiti points.
Here's a closeup of the front of the graffiti truck. Are the graffiti dudes being nice for avoiding the truck's windshield, or are they being wimps for not going for the super mega double graffiti points available there?
Chicago's Blue Line travels along Milwaukee avenue through Wicker Park, and (at least where it's above ground) it's a great place for people to stash their filth.
The graffiti dudes have a lot of work to do. I can spot at least six surfaces that haven't been tagged. Come on, graffiti dudes.
This is an example of the pure utility of alleyways. Nobody put that trash there for any reason, it's just where it ended up.
No care was taken to make this place look nice at all. The backs of buildings are built with the cheapest, ugliest bricks. That garbage is strewn wherever is convenient. Even the graffiti is arguably only making it look worse. Is this place beautiful because of its complete lack of beauty?
I wonder how many times these fire escapes have been used.
Anybody want that broken plastic storage box?
These dumpsters are pretty close to the street, so they have a bit less filth scattered around them. Also, you can see some fliers posted there, trying to advertise to people who like to look closely at dumpsters.
Here's a weird wood box, and an old pinstriped suit jacket.
I think that's a bum's stash there, under the tracks.
Here's some strange aperture in this wall, from one of this building's pas lives. Just beyond you can see where a door used to be, replaced by bricks.
In a few places the CTA tracks are so long and straight that you get really awesome views like this. Nothing is ever built underneath the tracks.
I'm not sure what this building is used for anymore, but it once had a great deal of loading and unloading going on back here.
That dude got some serious graffiti points.
The building seemed to be pretty empty through these back windows. It's just begging to be rebuilt into some sweet apartments.
A bit further along the tracks you can find this painting on a garage door.
Here's another one of those views along the tracks, except with a fence in the way.
And another one, going the other way. It just seems to go on forever.
Years of street art has led to strange collages of bizarre art and torn shreds of paper on a few of the more obscure walls in the area.
Fuck bitches get $.
It's strange to see something like this pile of cleanly cut tree branches in the middle of a totally urban area.
Just up Damen, a vine-covered gate sits in front of this alley.
This is a small park on Damen. There aren't any dumpsters here, but you can still see the unavoidable decay of human influence. Years of people walking exactly the same way across this area has killed the grass growing there.
There's also graffiti. This graffiti dude was apparently stopped mid-tag.
You only see flowers next to a sidewalk. This bush is about as artificial as you can get a plant to be. Its shape, its color, and its very presence has been carefully chosen by human hands.