Norman Behrendt’s first published photobook “Burning Down the House” — subtitled “A photographic study of Berliner graffiti writers 2007—2012” — offers an intimate and unusual foray into the most secretive artists of the german metropolis.
Graffiti writers belong to a fast track, invisible legion of subway, train yards & street roamers who usually operate without anyone in sight, a nocturnal secret society shrouded in mystery and whose anonymity is vital for their self preservation. Their name travels widely across the whole city train lines but their identity is never revealed.
“To be a writer is a big secret. It’s the biggest secret that I keep from my parents. You don’t tell many people, you only tell people who you can trust. There’s a big impulse to maintain secrecy.” – Duko.
Behrendt’s “tour de force” is to depict the inner face of this closed society without showing much of graffiti itself, staying away either from the usual adrenaline, action-driven iconography or the documentation process, but rather opting for the portrait, photographing young men in an environment and background that they have specifically chosen, taking out the excess and drama, leaving the quintessence of the writer.
Portraits come along sometimes with more scenic backgrounds, but mostly writers chose to expose something different, during the usual routine of daily life, in students’ apartments, sometimes even in the countryside, probably not far from train lines, maybe where the writers started to paint for the first time. With the portrait, there is something deeper that can here be touched, where the background sometimes reveals more of the personality and drama of the writer than the portrait itself.