James Prigoff, Who Documented Street Artwork, Dies at 93

James Prigoff, who after beginning his vocation in business turned his consideration to pictures, documenting public murals and avenue artwork in thousands of shots taken all around the planet and supporting to legitimize operates when dismissed as vandalism, died on April 21 at his property in Sacramento, Calif. He was 93.

His granddaughter Perri Prigoff verified his dying.

Mr. Prigoff was the creator, with Henry Chalfant, of “Spraycan Art” (1987), a foundational ebook in the street-artwork field that featured much more than 200 photos of vibrant, intricate artworks in rail tunnels, on properties and somewhere else — not only in New York, then regarded by lots of to be the epicenter of graffiti art, but also in Chicago, Los Angeles, Barcelona, London, Vienna and other cities. It incorporated interviews with lots of of the artists and even captured some of them in the act of developing their perform.

The e-book bought hundreds of hundreds of copies. Mr. Chalfant, in a telephone job interview, mentioned a British newspaper experienced also presented it a much less economically gratifying difference: It said “Spraycan Art” was the next-most-stolen e-book in London. (The most stolen e book, Mr. Chalfant mentioned, was the very similar “Subway Artwork,” which he and Martha Cooper experienced printed three many years before.)

“Spraycan Art” arrived out at a time when road artwork experienced grown reasonably advanced but the artists who created it were continue to regarded by several as mere vandals. Mr. Prigoff, in subsequent guides and in the talks he gave, argued in any other case.

“‘Vandalism’ may perhaps be a make a difference of stage of look at, but it is clearly artwork,” he instructed The Push-Telegram of Lengthy Seaside, Calif., in 2007. “Museums and collectors buy it, businesses co-opt it, and it matches all the dictionary definitions of art.”

Those people who dismiss avenue art, he contended, are lacking its importance. That was unquestionably the case for the Black artists he and Robin J. Dunitz documented in “Walls of Heritage, Partitions of Pleasure: African American Murals” (2000), who ended up extensive marginalized by the white artwork elite, as was their lifestyle.

“Given restricted access to the a lot more formal art venues,” he wrote in the preface to that book, “African-American artists chose the streets and other community places to build pictures that challenged detrimental messages.”

In a 1993 converse in Vancouver, British Columbia, he decried what he identified as a double common in cities that ongoing to carry out a war on graffiti but allowed billboards for Camel cigarettes, with their photographs of Joe Camel.

“You tell me what’s uglier,” he challenged the viewers, “a wall of spray-can art or the cartoon character with the phallic confront?”

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

Mr. Prigoff grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., and graduated from New Rochelle High School at 16. He researched industrial engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Engineering, graduating in 1947. Amongst the positions he held in the enterprise earth were being division president at Levi Strauss and senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation in Chicago.

He to start with manufactured headlines not for his pictures, but for his squash participating in. “Prigoff Triumphs in Squash Tennis Beats Bacallao to Get 6th U.S. Title in 8 Several years,” study 1 these headline in The New York Situations in April 1967.

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

“I speedily found that documenting murals happy 3 pursuits that strongly determined me,” he wrote in the preface to “Walls of Heritage.” “I appreciated photography, I respected the group aspect of community artwork, and I had a robust concern for social and political justice — usually the subject subject of avenue artwork.”

Mr. Prigoff retired from the business environment in 1987 and two many years afterwards settled in Sacramento. He ongoing to go after his passion for photographing general public murals of all varieties, sanctioned and otherwise.

“Sometimes it takes a guide to help us ‘see’ the artistic benefit of places we push or wander by daily,” Patricia Holt wrote in 1997 in The San Francisco Chronicle, reviewing “Painting the Towns: Murals of California,” an before Prigoff-Dunitz collaboration.

Mr. Prigoff, who also photographed archaeological web-sites, considered road art as aspect of a pretty lengthy historical chain.

“Go back again 1000’s of many years,” he instructed The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1995. “People have been writing their names in the damnedest places for so long.”

Just one of his most loved metropolitan areas for mural hunting was Philadelphia, and in 2015 he lent 1,500 photographs he experienced taken there to Mural Arts Philadelphia, the place Steve Weinik, the digital archivist, has been doing the job to produce an archive of them.

“Jim was early to realize the simple fact that graffiti is both genuine artwork and ephemeral,” Mr. Weinik reported by email. “He recognized that the photograph was the history, and worked to doc graffiti and murals at a time when just about no a person else acknowledged these points. His photography and his drive to share it with the environment aided to the two preserve and validate the work.”

Mr. Prigoff beloved to vacation, and he took shots almost everywhere he went. 1 seemingly harmless photograph landed him in sizzling h2o, and in a civil accommodate versus the U.S. Section of Justice. In 2004 he was around Boston and took a picture of the so-termed Rainbow Swash, a colorfully painted gasoline storage tank.

“Private stability guards submitted a suspicious activity report on Mr. Prigoff just for the reason that he photographed community art on a organic gasoline storage tank in the Boston area,” Hugh Handeyside, senior workers legal professional for the Nationwide Stability Venture of the American Civil Liberties Union, said by e-mail, “and F.B.I. agents later on frequented him at his property in Sacramento and questioned his neighbors about him.”

Mr. Prigoff grew to become just one of quite a few plaintiffs in a 2014 lawsuit towards the Section of Justice contending that, in its zeal following the assaults of Sept. 11, 2001, the government was overreaching in its definition of “suspicious action.” The go well with, Mr. Handeyside reported, finally unsuccessful to adjust policy, but Mr. Prigoff believed the difficulty was significant.

“I lived by means of the McCarthy era,” he wrote of the incident, “so I know how untrue accusations, surveillance, and maintaining information on harmless men and women can damage their careers and lives.”

Mr. Prigoff’s spouse of 72 many years, 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 8 terrific-grandchildren.

Mr. Chalfant mentioned that Mr. Prigoff experienced just lately sent him images he experienced shot of Sacramento through the coronavirus pandemic.

“He took photos all close to the metropolis,” Mr. Chalfant reported, “of the emptiness of it.”

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