Henry Chalfant

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Henry Chalfant
Born (1940-01-02) January 2, 1940 (age 76)
Sewickley, Pennsylvania, United States
Alma mater Stanford University
Known for Photography, videography
Movement Street art
Website henrychalfant.com

Henry Chalfant (born January 2, 1940 in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, United States) is an American photographer and videographer most notable for his work on graffiti, breakdance, and hip hop culture. His photos are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Education and career[edit]

Chalfant is graduate of Stanford University, where he majored in classical Greek. Starting out as a sculptor in New York City in the 1970s, Chalfant turned to photography and film to do an in-depth study of hip-hop culture and graffiti art. One of the foremost authorities on New York subway art, and other aspects of urban youth culture, his photographs record hundreds of ephemeral, original art works that have long since vanished.

His photographs were included in the exhibitions City as Canvas: Graffiti Art From the Martin Wong Collection at the Museum of the City of New York, Art in the Streets at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and New York-New Wave at P.S. 1, in addition to galleries and museum in the United States and Europe. He has co-authored the definitive account of New York graffiti art, Subway Art, and a sequel on the art form’s world-wide diffusion, Spray Can Art.

Chalfant co-produced the PBS documentary Style Wars, the definitive documentary about graffiti and hip hop culture, and directed Flyin’ Cut Sleeves, a documentary on South Bronx gangs, in 1993. He produced and directed Visit Palestine: Ten Days on the West Bank in 2002. His film From Mambo to Hip Hop was featured in the Latino Public Broadcasting series Voces in 2006-2007, and won an Alma Award for Best Documentary.

He has co-authored an account of New York graffiti art, Subway Art, and a sequel on the art form's worldwide diffusion, Spraycan Art. Chalfant co-produced and did the background research and photo-documentation for the 1983 documentary film, Style Wars, first shown on PBS television in 1984. He is one of the foremost authorities on New York subway art.[1] Other films include Flyin' Cut Sleeves, a documentary about Bronx street gang leaders in the 1970s; Visit Palestine: Ten Days on the West Bank, based on his visit to the occupied territories in 2000; and the more recent documentary about the South Bronx, From Mambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Tale. The latest film chronicles two generations who grew up literally on the same streets of the Bronx, NY, and both used rhythm as their form of rebellion - for the older generation of the 1950s it was the pulsating rhythms of Cuba; for their children of the 1970s it was the rhythms of rap.[2]

Chalfant has stated his influences are varied:

"In college my mentor was Charles Rowan Beye, the Greek scholar. I really didn't have a mentor for my art work, but I was influenced by great sculptors I admired like David Smith and Eduardo Chillida. For visual anthropology, I was influenced by the ethnographic filmmaker, Jean Rouch."

Chalfant is a resident of New York City. He continues to make documentary films about urban popular culture.

Henry Chalfant's Big Subway Archive[edit]

On June 29, 2012, Chalfant released Henry Chalfant's Big Subway Archive as a 200-page book. Produced by Chalfant and Max Hergenrother, it is the first volume of a multi-volume archive comprising his entire collection of subway graffiti photographs. The archive series was renamed Henry Chalfant's Graffiti Archive: New York City's Subway Art and Artists in 2013.[3]

The books are e-books. They are published by Sleeping Dog Films, which primarily archives the photographer's over 800 photos of New York City Subway graffiti.[4] Each book in the series concentrates on a particular group or groups of graffiti artists, with an introduction by Chalfant giving background on the time and place the artists worked in. These passages also contain non-subway-car photos of the artists or their neighborhoods as well as video interviews with the featured artists. The pictures of the subway cars are actually multiple photos overlapped to show the entire length of the subway car at a direct ninety degree angle.

The volumes released thus far are Volumes 1, 2, and 3. Volume 1, "CYA and TVS" published June 29, 2012; CYA stands for "Crazy Young Artists" and TVS stands for "The Vamp Squad." Volume 2 is Rolling Thunder Writers and Soul Artists published December 7, 2012,[5] and Volume 3 is "TC5 featuring Blade" published July 1, 2013; "TC5" stands for "The Crazy Five" or "The Cool Five."[6]

The series has received generally positive critical support and has been mildly controversial. In volume 3 graffiti artist Lady Pink asserts that "The graffiti movement has become a greater thing than the Renaissance."[7] The series also sheds new light on some historical graffiti feuds such as Seen TC5 versus Seen UA.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Henry married actress Kathleen Chalfant (née Bishop) in 1966. They have two children: David Chalfant, who is a record producer and was the bass player for the folk-rock band The Nields; and Andromache Chalfant, who is a set designer in New York.[2]


  1. ^ "Henry Chalfant". Editions. Iconoclast Editions. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  2. ^ a b "About". Henry Chalfant. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  3. ^ https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/henry-chalfants-big-subway/id531594319?mt=11 Henry Chalfant's Graffiti Archive Vol. 1
  4. ^ "HCGA Volume 1". Apple Computer. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "HCGA Volume 2". Apple Computer. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  6. ^ "HCGA Volume 3". Apple Computer. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  7. ^ "Graffiti:Bigger than the Renaissance". Deadly Buda. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  8. ^ "Art Elevated". New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  • Vee, Bravo (1998). "Henry Chalfant: Granddaddy of the Graff Flik". Stress Magazine 13. 

External links[edit]