In explaining the history of cultural phenomena, like art movements, a number of elements come together to form a new compound. However, such reactions, as in chemistry, are generally slow, like the oxidation of iron, unless energy or a catalysing agent is added. The energy of cultural phenomena is often obvious but the catalysing agent may not be so obvious as catalysing agents are left unchanged by the reaction.
In explaining the history of street art the catalysing effect of the Internet and digital cameras has often been ignored. Without either of these technologies the energy generated from the sharing of images of street art around the world would have not have existed. Megapixal digital cameras for consumers were first marketed in 1997. Between 1997 and 1999 internet use more than doubled from 11% to 24% in the developed world and from 2% to 5% globally.
Between 1997 and 1999 the number of street artist around world probably doubled too. Street art changed from being a sub-cultural minority interest, associated with hip-hop music, to an international art movement. The internet and digital cameras were the means that changed street art from a sub-culture activity as they provided access to street art from outside of the sub-culture as other people, not associated with the sub-culture, started to photograph street art with their new digital cameras and look at it on the internet. These people would become the new audience and collectors of street art.
During that time I was working for LookSmart.com, before the dot.com bubble burst. I created a category for graffiti in LookSmart’s visual arts section and reviewed all of the graffiti websites from Australia. There were only about 15 sites then – now there are thousands.
The Internet and digital cameras are now as much the media of street art as are walls and cans. Light graffiti takes this to its logical conclusion using the record of the digital camera to create images from drawing with a light in the city.