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Schablone Berlin & Berlin Street Art

Review Date: January 15th 2006
Reviewed by: duncan

I recently received two books of similar theme, format, content, size, so I decided to review them together for comparison.

Berlin Street Art First up, 'Berlin Street Art', by Sven Zimmerman, published by Prestel. This small hardback (about 100 photos) starts off with a brief text introduction (in English and German) describing street art and how the author came to document it. Then it launches straight in with the good-quality photos, which are presented full page, without any credits of who the work is by. All photos are of stencils or stickers, not graffiti (apart from the occasional tag etc. that manage to sneak into the pictures). Zimmerman seems to have fallen into this world the same route as I took - wandering around his city while unemployed: "When I did my first picture of this kind, more or less by chance, I happened to be out of work and so had a lot of time to take photos."
I'd say if you prefer stencils & stickers over graffiti, and are perhaps a bit of a completist or want to see what they're up to in Berlin, this book might be for you, although you're not going to see much that'll blow you away, and indeed you'll see quite a bit that you will already know (Banksy, Faile etc). Perhaps a bit more text, or some kind of themed linking of the images might have helped here. It's a concise neat package that kept me briefly amused, but not one I'll turn back to repeatedly.
Buy it from Amazon

Schablone Berlin Secondly, Schablone Berlin, by Caroline Koebel and Kyle Schlesinger, published by Chax Press. This paperback is only slightly larger and thicker than Berlin Street Art, but otherwise they are quite different. Schablone (German for stencil) Berlin starts off with a 40 page introduction into the history of stencils and how it fits into the traditions of book and screen printing, cave art, through to modern art. A brief bibliography, then onto the photos. Again the pictures are presented similarly in full page and uncredited. This time it's just stencils, which is where this book perhaps has an advantage, as it's more niche than the catch-all 'street art'. Again, you'll see stencils you'll have seen elsewhere, either in person (again the much-travelled and photographed Banksy, Faile et al), or online and in books. Finally we have a brief post-face from an anthropologist who compares modern stencil art to petroglyphs and mark-making by early man on rock walls at Santa Fe, New Mexico
Although both have succesfully documented the stencil/streetart scene in Berlin, the lengthy introduction in the latter book gives it a meatier feel, and is one I expect to turn back to for reference and quotes from time to time. This book reads very much like an artists' book rather than a photography book, and indeed the authors are coming from an art/typography background. If you're purely interested in the photos, then the text might seem a bit pretentious and atypical of normal graffiti books. For instance, "Stencil artists are cultural rebels inhabiting non-sanctioned spaces. The ordered mass connoted by 'the public' is inevitably fissured by cracks of individuality. Singular bodies create fluxus through, or rather in opposition to, the official metropolitan order of zoning, privatization and urban planning. Anarchic sign-stencils unlock the bolt of the authoritarian street." etc. If you can get your head round this type of stuff, there's some real value to be had here.
The print run is limited to 500 copies, so if this sounds like your cup of tea, don't delay.
Buy it from Small Press Distribution


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