A Sense of Purpose

Vedder Train Bridge Graffiti

There is a train bridge relatively near to where we live that I had only seen on maps and was sure that it would afford some wonderful long exposure possibilities as it spans a scenic section of the Vedder River. Light rain from an overcast sky guaranteed the right lighting for a late fall black and white treatment so I loaded out and drove the twenty minutes to the trail head only to find that in my hastiness my tripod had been left at home. Since a long exposure hand held would blur beyond artistic license the choice was made to search for a different subject. As I headed back across the bridge with a new game plan the graffiti that I had sauntered past previously took on a whole new aspect.

Is graffiti art? Is graffiti vandalism? This bridge was built to allow the passage of rail traffic over the geological impediment imposed by the river, designed to support a momentous surge of mass and energy while transferring these forces through its structure into the bedrock underlying its base. The coats of paint applied to the metal structure had the primary purpose of sealing it from the elements that would initiate rust and secondarily to add some aesthetic appeal. The tagger had a different purpose in mind; a ready-made canvas. The choice of paint would also have been suited to the artistic intent and if Tremclad® was chosen it wouldn’t have been for its rust inhibiting properties. The taggers purpose lay outside the scope of the original designer. The purpose was imposed; artistic, but imposed nonetheless.

Design and purpose in a tug-of-war. We struggle to fulfill the purpose of our design every day. Others, in trying to fulfill their design, attempt to impose their purposes on us. Apart from knowing our own design though, how are we to know that this is an imposition? Who holds the patent on our design? The question comes down to ownership and if the graffiti is in offense whose name comes under the heading of claimant, the bridge or the designer? Who determines the purpose of the design?


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