A new book offers readers a treasure trove of photos of suburban graffiti.
If your exposure to Toronto graffiti is limited to walls in Kensington Market or rooftops along Queen Street West, Kathy Toth’s new photo collection, Hidden Toronto, will be an eye opener. The book, released earlier this month, nicely documents graffiti’s transformation from a predominantly downtown phenomenon into a citywide one.
Hidden in concrete spillways, colossal drainage basins, and other unexplored locations, the compendium reveals the fact that the resilient art form has gained a strong toehold in suburban Toronto.
We met up with Toth along a busy rail corridor in the city’s north end, where we explored a six-metre-tall, graffiti-strewn sound barrier.
Out here on the fringes, Toth, who works by day as a commercial photographer, is in her element. A former graff writer herself, she remains ever vigilant, simultaneously scanning the tracks for approaching freight trains while commenting on the newest addition to the impromptu graffiti gallery parallel to the tracks.
Periodically, she interrupts herself to capture an image with her ever-present camera.
The notion of making something like Hidden Toronto came to Toth around the time Mayor Rob Ford, a vocal graffiti opponent, took office. At the time, Toth was beginning to notice graffiti spreading into previously unblemished regions of the city. Venturing to the suburbs, she witnessed the expansion firsthand.
Toth attributes some the spread of graffiti in Toronto to Ford’s crackdown, which has resulted in unprecedented numbers of tags being targeted by City inspectors. The last thing graff writers want is their work buffed. With the City labouring to paint over pieces as quickly as they appear, it stands to reason that writers are seeking out remote locations to ensure their work’s longevity.
These new locations are well off the beaten path. They’re deep in—and in some cases under—the suburban landscape. During her exploration, Toth discovered a series of monstrous drainage basins decked out with graffiti.
Toth believes City Hall’s strategy backfired. Like a classic game of Whack-a-Mole, for every piece of graff City workers buffed, several more sprung up, many in the suburbs.
Traipsing around out-of-the-way pockets of the City, Toth informed graffiti writers of her intention to put together a visual record of their work’s creeping tendrils. The writers’ response? Why bother? Everyone knows these locations already.
True enough for graffiti writers. The general public, meanwhile, has no idea how far afield the graffiti community had migrated. (Toth chose not to identify the majority of locations depicted in Hidden Toronto.)
As a result of Toth’s efforts, the book is a stylized collection of images boasting a level of quality that online graffiti photos can’t match. The scale and magnitude depicted in her work is remarkable. A recurring water theme gives many photographs an inexplicably human quality. And, intentionally or not, Hidden Toronto also depicts some truly remarkable examples of municipal infrastructure, many of which the average person would otherwise never encounter.
Thanks to Toth, now they will.
Photographs from Kathy Toth’s Hidden Toronto.