Graphic Junkies is a photo blog by  "an active law enforcement officer in the state of Georgia." The photographs are remarkable; the context compelling."/>

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Comments (24) Posted 03.24.05 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Jessica Helfand

The Design Police

Now that cell phone cameras are a ubiquitous part of everyday life, it may come as no surprise that not everyone need be a professional photographer to publish their work. There's an engaging pull to the kinds of photographs that emerge from on-the-fly shooting: they're all about a kind of instinctual compositional impulse that connects a fleeting instant with an enduring watchfulness. Sites like Flickr have taken this kind of street-photography to a new level, making it public and international and curatorially self-governing. Still, underneath it all there's an implicit assumption that the people posting their photos are artists, or designers, or photographers, or students — people who have the time not only to shoot pictures but to post them.

But somewhere in Southwest Atlanta, there's a law enforcement officer taking pictures, chronicling the everyday with photographs (many of them from the patrol car) of a world few graphic designers ever see. And it's incredible.

They're remarkable, these photographs — shots of streets and run-down housing projects; of gang graffiti and street signage; still-life images of gleaming handcuffs and rows of bullets, shot like some metallicized kind of alternate life-form, an aberrant kind of techno-horticulture. The images themselves are laid out plainly on a simple grid, but even here, the relationship between the cropped indexical version and its full-frame version indicates an artist with a capable reach as well as a steadfast editorial sensibility. The images themselves are delicately composed, warmly lit, strikingly bold. Taken individually, they're visually arresting, but as a series, they take on a kind of secondary narrative — daytime on the outskirts of Atlanta, where there's a kind of dormant energy, an apprehensive sense of imminent peril. It's as if the very cropping of these images makes a kind of statement: is trouble what's beyond the viewfinder? And if so, do the pictures themselves offer a kind of visceral, even spiritual respite from such menancing unknowns?

Of course, many of us shoot what we see in the world everyday — signage and graffiti, shadows falling on abandoned buildings: none of it is new, exactly. But these pictures —and this site — were produced by a cop: and there's your tertiary narrative right there. It's an astonishing thing to see: now just think about what we're not seeing.
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Comments (24)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

Thanks for drawing our attention to these photographs. It's a compelling but also curiously mannered project. I don't sense any real connection to police work and wonder if the provenance of photographs can be taken at face value. What do you make of the fake authenticity of the identically distressed paper borders that have been digitally grafted to several of the photographs? Or the self-consciously (again digitally) imposed sprocket holes in other photographs, always showing the image as frame no. 2? Would "an active law enforcement officer" go to this kind of trouble to create the effect of artiness? Maybe this cop is moonlighting in an MFA program.
Alan Thomas
03.24.05 at 12:17

Alan, I took the distressed borders as a kind of urban scrapbooking style. I would bet they're stock borders for those who hate ribbons and bows ... or find them inappropriate. So yeah, if he/she took the time to take the photos, I can easily imagine them taking the time to use a stock, or even custom border for posting on the tidy website.

I think this cop has a very good eye (albeit mannered, as you mention), and I'm interested in his/her interest in signage. (That Target photo!)

You seem to be suggesting a hoax ... I just can't imagine why. The thing is, there are cafe waitresses who are very good writers, and janitors who are great artists; why not a cop who is a good photographer? For most of us, cops are very much an "other" (and for this reason I've always had a personal fascination with them, but we'd best not explore that too closely), and we tend to forget that they're just people like everyone else ... except, um, they're cops.

And i would presume that there are not many "police work" shots because at those times this person is busy doing their job.
marian bantjes
03.24.05 at 02:09

I think it's great that as professionally creative people we are losing our monopoly on creating, and I think it's great when we notice and attention.

I've participated in this turn-of-the-millenium digital photography & instant publishing phenomenon. When my friends tell me they like my pictures I smile and say 'thanks', but what actually moves me is when they start showing me photos that they have taken that they might not have noticed before.
Kevin Steele
03.24.05 at 08:55

this is an interesting site-- but I'm a little confused by your surprise that he's a cop. I'm not sure what the difference is between his work and that of the "artists, or designers, or photographers, or students — people who have the time not only to shoot pictures but to post them" on sites like flickr. It seems like you have a pretty generous view of flickr and pretty presumptuous one of what it is to be a cop. Why would a cop not also be an artist, or have time to post pictures? Hobby and art websites abound from people with "regular" jobs. I would think that photography-- and, now, web-based digital photography-- is one of the media most transcendent of the whole insider/outsider artist dichotomy.
03.24.05 at 11:53

Perhaps he/she is a well regarded artist of some fame, that couldnt stand the vapid and pretentious art world, with it's overly grandiose descriptions of trivial matters made important, and wanted some meaning in his/her life, and decided to become a cop in order to make a difference in this world.

Nate Cavanaugh
03.24.05 at 01:04

These are great; thanks for the link. I suggested to that they link to it as well; regular people with cameras demonstrate my belief that art is not just for those who chose it as a career; we are all capable of capturing and creating beauty.
Isaac B2
03.24.05 at 02:03

"but I'm a little confused by your surprise that he's a cop."

I agree. If you can shoot a gun, why not a camera?

Hey, let's start a guns for cameras campaign.
Steven K.
03.24.05 at 02:48

These are valid photos. It's a friend of mine.

Someone was actually headed in the right direction with their seemingly cynical commentary.

This is someone with an extremely good eye and artistic presence who tired of helping assholes make more money by designing and wanted a little more meaning in their day-to-day.
Angryblue / Justin Kamerer
03.24.05 at 04:56

Justin you gankface, I was HINTING! :)

We know we're both talking about the same syphillitic human being ;)
Nate Cavanaugh
03.24.05 at 07:36

The temptation is to value images more than the information they convey. The Cop Shots remind me of my neighborhood.
I like the photographic realism the new camera mobility conveys.
The Artistic merit is often seemingly accidental in nature-just like a good cops life. Any documented view of life which is fresh
and current-may serve one (of many) key
function of Art, namelya recordation of a view of life as it may be experienced;so it seems the Atlanta Cops view is current design observer too.
Art takes practice and chance together.much editing.I'll leave it for others to judge the art-merit. I see mobile images as a living archeologic anthropology.
Keep going! Great posting! Cheers from Denver.

P.s. JH--Please write something on mobile weather-cams. We use'm all the time in Colorado- especially when powder hounding. The Copper Mt
Jaques Peak still view is the best view by an anonomous Ski Patroler: The Mt top Camera looks westward toward the Mt. of the Holy Cross wilderness.
Cheers from SW Denver CO
03.24.05 at 11:10

William Eggleston takes/took a lot of his photo's from the window of his car too. I can see a strong eggleston influence in the compositions which is no bad thing.

I'm not sure why, but there is something slightly unsettling about a cop taking photo's of just happened house fires and car crashes, M16's and handcuff's. The jump from event to instant beautiful capture seems skewed somehow when the photographer isn't 'outside' the events somehow.

Im not sure an artist CAN be instantly one thing and another at the same exact time. Baker/Sculptor, Mortician/Painter, News Reporter/Poet.

Would certainly make a fascinating book. As the idea of who Eggleston and other street photographers actually are is that they should be invisible, Ciphers for us to read the images cleanly from our own perspective. In that sense these images from a conceptual level seem like street photography, but are in fact more editorial/journalistic in nature. Curious.

03.25.05 at 06:27

"Im not sure an artist CAN be instantly one thing and another at the same exact time. Baker/Sculptor, Mortician/Painter, News Reporter/Poet."

Interesting comment, indeed. Why is an artist limited to being just an artist? Don't we all have other dreams? I think those of us that are true artists are also something else. Being an artist just lets us view the world through an entirely different filter. Some things that I see and want to photograph, others just pass right by them and do not think twice. But to me it is something worth capturing.

To disspell some of the comments, yes, I am an active law enforcement officer certified by the state of Georgia. No, the pictures on the site were not posted during an activie investigation or in any situation where the taking of a picture was put before the safety and/or concern of a human life. That would be absurd. While I am on duty, I am a police officer first, not an artist. While I am on duty, my responsibilities to my work come first and foremost before I even think of taking out a camera.

The reason for the jumping of pictures and subject matters is intentional. To me it keeps things interesting, almost as if there are several unknown stories going on at a single time, which is what life is all about. Imagine your own city and all the people living there. How many different stories are happening right there alone at a single given moment?

Also, yes, I do see some beautiful things while at work. For right now, this is what I am photographing. This interests me because this is a life that so many people live and these are the surroundings that they call home.

"I don't sense any real connection to police work and wonder if the provenance of photographs can be taken at face value. What do you make of the fake authenticity of the identically distressed paper borders that have been digitally grafted to several of the photographs? Or the self-consciously (again digitally) imposed sprocket holes in other photographs, always showing the image as frame no. 2? Would "an active law enforcement officer" go to this kind of trouble to create the effect of artiness? Maybe this cop is moonlighting in an MFA program."

Perhaps you dont sense any real connection to police work, but I ask you, what is real police work to you? Is it what you see on CSI or what you have had exposure to on the streets of your city? The photographs should be taken at face value, that is exactly what they are there for. The borders, which I did go through the trouble of creating for the effect of artiness, are there to add just something else to the photographs. For me personally, I think that they add, not take away. Much of this project is for me as it is for everyone else to view.

While in college, I initially wanted to pursue a degree in art. However, afraid of the myth of the starving artist I finished an Associate Degree, then completed a Bachelors Degree in Business, all the while working in that environment. I eventually landed a job working in graphic design and web development. As much as I enjoyed that, there was still something missing in my life. I felt like I was not being personally satisfied with my career so I had to change it. I did not want to be 85 years old, sitting on my front porch drinking coffee, and wonder what it would have been like to have been a police officer. I dont think I could have lived with that regret of not at least trying. After a 7 month hiring process, 10 weeks in the basic law enforcement training class, and 10 weeks in field officer training, I have been cut loose on my own as a police officer.

My initial reaction to some of the comments was a little abrasive to say the least. However, had I seen this site as an outsider this time last year, I would have thought the same thing. Why would a cop do something like this? What does a cop care about art? I would have been skeptical as well. All I can offer is that this is a creative outlet for me and something that I enjoy. Hopefully others will see it in the same light.
03.25.05 at 08:48

Thanks to GJ for joining this discussion and telling us something about the background to his or her photographs. I fear that my initial post may have set the wrong tone for our responses to what is, in the final analysis, an accomplished body of work.

GJ's question "what is real police work to you?" is a fair one. And as GJ implies, it's a loaded question. We all have overdetermined ideas of what policing amounts to, and GJ's site plays off some of them. One thing GJ's work suggests is that police work can be like what a soldier's is often said to be: long periods when nothing happens, and when a soldier (or cop) can succumb to boredom or put time to creative use.
Alan Thomas
03.25.05 at 10:04

This is my take:

To begin with, it has never been the case that professionals have a lock on publication. Amateurs are often more talented than their professional counterparts, simply less practiced. Increase the number of cameras in the hands of amateurs and the number of good photos will increase. It's a numbers game. The difference between professionals and amateurs (besides the obvious) is that professionals have to perform at the highest level on demand. There is no room for your "b" level work. This takes practice and a honing of skill beyond that of most amateurs. This does not mean that amateurs are lower level artists - there are plenty of amateur photographers whom I admire and many non-professional photographs that I've lusted after.

Professionals photojournalists like Alan Thomas concern themselves with authenticity daily that is the reason for his comments. As a photographer, if you digitally alter the image in any way you best not present it as authentic. It's simply too easy to deceive with the new tools. Adding border sends a signal that the photographer is altering his work. Maybe it is only a border, but maybe not.

Of course you can be a police officer and an artist. It's a silly notion that any profession precludes the other. You can shift back and forth at will too. Art is the manifestation of human emotion through medium. Is there a point at which police officers cease being human? Cease all emotion? That comment sounded elitist to me and one that is missing the point. Some professions offer access to target rich environments - police, firefighters, soldiers, hospital workers, etc. all have access to emotional content that is closed to many professionals. More power to them is what I say.

Go to to read Art vs. Craft negotiated if you're interested in a short comment on the topic. BTW - I've been a professional photographer most of my career:
Bruce DeBoer
03.25.05 at 10:05

I liked these pictures, especially the focus on found lettering. My only concern is that the police angle might lead some to take a "rockist" line: to frame these pictures in some spurious discourse about what's real (and that includes speculation about their inauthenticity).

By co-incidence, my own blog has a series of work-related photos on it today: a series of high-resolution Employee Photos from corporate websites. Rather than authenticity, the focus is on the surrealism of super-detailed follicles, pimples, and facial hair.
Nick Currie
03.25.05 at 11:54

Facinating work. And I love the observation that

I think it's great that as professionally creative people we are losing our monopoly on creating, and I think it's great when we notice and attention.

Often creatives are threatened when the world they inhabit is expanded to include novices. It's great to see this attitude and I applaud Design Observer for noticing GJ's work.
Beerzie Boy
03.25.05 at 02:02

How much for the copyrights of GJ's work? Did he payed them to the gangs, handcuffs makers, etc?
João Marrucho
03.26.05 at 12:05

that's good Joao M.
copyrights for all!
cheers, from Denver!
03.26.05 at 02:30

" shot like some metallicized kind of alternate life-form, an aberrant kind of techno-horticulture"

OMG. You need to get out of the ivory tower a little more often sweetie. This is the other 75% of life which is in fact real life. DUH. But what would you know about that living hundreds of miles north of the "reality line". That's right. Unbeknownst to you, you are in fact of the minority. That nauseating few who peer at the "others' through a splintered monocle and condecscendingly decide, for wont of creative alternatives, evidently, to stuff them into an "art" slot. Wake up. If they are art, then you are historically relative. NOT
Paris Stilted
03.28.05 at 01:07

The photos were lovely, but I couldn't bear the interface which required me to click on one, then go back, then click on another... it was clumsy and intrusive. It seemed purposely designed to prevent people from looking at all of them, and to prevent any kind of flow/narrative developing in moving from one photo to the next.

There's no excuse for this -- the content is wasted in this presentation.
03.29.05 at 02:53

I viewed these photos, as I do with everything, with an open mind. While clicking through, I realized, yes, these images are decent, although they are not briliant by any means. While anyone can take "on the fly" photos such as these, I don't believe they deserve to be called anything more than just that. Once in a awhile people do capture brilliant images withought even realizing it, but I don't believe that they need to be celebrated as a certain type of design. Take David Carson for example... In his book fotografiqs (sp?) it is nothing more than a coffee table book of photos which he took, some even accidentally as a child. I have read a few reviews on this book, and some comments I believe are very practicle. He is a well known designer, but because of his fame, does it merrit his accidental work as a child to be considered masterful art? I feel that these photos get the same type of recognition. Maybe it is amazing to some people because a police officer took these photos of everyday occurrances. Just because the photographer is a police officer doesn't make his work any more brilliant than a professional. Some of these images are interesting, but aren't there photographers on the police force who take such pictures? I am not one to talk down about any person's work however amature-ish it might appear. Many artists of today create work that is scrutinized for it's definition of art. I am merely posting a few comments of this work to get people to maybe think in another direction.
03.30.05 at 03:28

Nowadays artists "dumb themselves down" to appear unschooled and au naturale so it has become far more difficult to discern between trained and untrained. What the fuck are they ashamed of anyway. If you want to look like an unschooled folk artist then don't waste your money on art school. Talented people really don't need it anyway.
Anna Maria
03.31.05 at 12:26

to Anna:
School should teach more than just a visual
art. Talent is only part of any dicipline.
The whole world is dumbing down, losing craft,
technique and a sense of history, and then calling everything else unecessary.
I think your comment shows allot of dumbing down awareness. A good teacher would be good for you depending on your talent.-ha ha...
04.01.05 at 12:57

I dunno if anyone noticed this photo but apparently the local authorities can't spell. The signs says "no alchol".. thought it was funny
Ales G
07.10.05 at 06:48

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Jessica Helfand, a founding editor of Design Observer, is an award-winning graphic designer and writer and a former contributing editor and columnist for Print, Communications Arts and Eye magazines. A member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale and a recent laureate of the Art Director's Hall of Fame, Helfand received her B.A. and her M.F.A. from Yale University where she has taught since 1994.
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BOOKS BY Jessica Helfand

Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture
Winterhouse Editions, 2001

Scrapbooks: An American History
Yale University Press, 2008

Reinventing the Wheel
Winterhouse Editions, 2002

Paul Rand: American Modernist
winterhouse Editions, 1998

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

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Mr. Vignelli's Map
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Reflections on The Ephemeral World, Part One: Ink
An elegy to the makeready — those sheets of paper, re-fed into a press to get the ink balances up to speed, leaving a series of often random, palimpsest-like, multiple impressions on a single surface — in the digital age.

Cranbrook Commencement Address
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Greening the Grocery Store
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