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Michael (Charles Gregory) Graffiti Photograph Collection
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Scope and Contents
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Arrangement
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Custodial History
  • Related Materials
  • Publication Rights
  • Processing Information
  • Preferred Citation

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: Mojave Desert Archives
    Title: Charlie Michael Graffiti Photograph Collection
    creator: Michael, Charlie (Charles Gregory)
    Identifier/Call Number: AR.2014.001
    Physical Description: 4197 Unique Photographic Images
    Physical Description: 3956 Photographic Negative(s) 35mm
    Physical Description: 241 Polaroid Print(s) 4" x 4"
    Physical Description: 5011 Photographic Print(s) 4" x 6"
    Physical Description: 21 Photographic Print(s) 3" x 5"
    Date (inclusive): 1990-2000
    Abstract: The Charlie Michael Graffiti Photograph Collection contains over 4,000 color images taken by Charlie Michael during the course of his employment with Clark County, Nevada, while removing graffiti (abatement). Michael's images document a wide range of graffitti types in the form of tags, throw ups, characters, and street art found in the urban desert environment of Las Vegas, Nevada, at the close of the twentieth century.

    Scope and Contents

    The Charlie Michael Graffiti Photograph Collection contains over 4,000 color images of Las Vegas graffiti from the last decade of the 20th century. The photographic materials are comprised of polaroids, 35mm color negatives, and color prints. They are arranged by photographic format and date taken.

    Biographical / Historical

    In the 1990s and 2000s, Charlie Michael was employed as a painter by Clark County, Nevada, to perform graffiti abatement (removal). As part of his job, Michael located graffiti, estimated the dollar cost of the property damage, gave it a job number, and then documented the work on film before he erased it. Only later, after he retired from this work, did Michael consider that the snapshots he captured might have value and meaning beyond the scope of his job.
    Charles Gregory "Charlie" Michael was born July 7, 1955, and lived in Las Vegas Valley his entire life. Michael claimed that his great-great-grandfather was Jefferson Hunt of the Mormon Battalion. Several of his family members worked in the mines at Eldorado Canyon on the Colorado River. His father worked on the construction of Hoover Dam and built warships at Terminal Island during World War II. Charlie Michael considered himself a loner and hiked all over the Mojave Desert in his spare time. Although he did not consider himself a miner, he was very interested in desert mining. He collected mining books and journals. During tight budget times, when Clark County could not afford paint for Michael to use to cover up graffiti, he was sent out all over the county to identify abandoned mines and report on unsafe conditions.
    There is an evolution evident in Michael's documenting of Las Vegas graffiti over the course of ten years. In the early years, from 1990 to 1994, Polaroid snapshots were his medium of choice. Polaroids provide near-instant photographs, but because there is no negative, they are difficult to duplicate. In August 1994, Michael switched to 35mm film, which he used for the next six years. Although the present collection does not include any digital photography, in correspondence Michael alludes to having switched to digital photography after June 2000. Michael subsequently lost all of his digital materials in a hard drive failure around 2012.
    Another aspect of Michael's graffiti documentation is the addition of information to the images as an aid to memory for reporting back to his employer. He wrote a variety of information in permanent ink directly on the image itself; the date, location, estimated property damage (ED) cost, job number, and his initials (CM). On the back of the prints, Michael interpreted the messages found in the graffiti, rated the quality of a tag, and identified the names of gangs, crews, and individual writers. He used the camera feature that burned the date into the lower right hand corner of the 35mm negative. Michael also experimented with documenting his job data directly onto the graffiti itself, using the same tool as the writer--spray paint. Using this method, when Michael snapped the photo, he immediately captured both the graffiti and his job data together on the same film frame.
    Although he took a passing interest in the content of the graffiti he documented and removed, Charlie Michael made few judgements about it. At the time, it was just a job. Michael captured the data on film to record that he was carrying out of the duties of his job. It was only after his employment ended with Clark County that Michael considered that this decade-long record of Las Vegas graffiti might be of value and interest.
    Charlie Michael is believed to have died in Las Vegas in 2015, not long after gifting this collection.


    This collection is arranged in 3 series:
    1. Polaroids, 1990-1994
    2. Color Prints, 1994-2000
    3. Color Negatives, 1994-2000
    Sub-series are arranged in chronological order by year/month.

    Conditions Governing Use

    Property rights reside with the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please contact the Archivist at the Mojave Desert Archives.

    Conditions Governing Access

    The collection is open for research. For access, please contact the Archivist at the Mojave Desert Archives at archivist@mdhca.org.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    The Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association acquired the collection from Charlie Michael, April 2014.

    Custodial History

    Charlie Michael initially donated this collection to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, University Libraries (UNLV), Special Collections. UNLV assigned it the identifier, "UNLV Photograph Collection #309." Because the donor indicated more material existed, processing the collection was postponed.
    Michael later contacted UNLV and requested the collection be returned to him. Special Collections complied and deaccessioned the collection. Mr. Michael then donated the collection to the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association (MDHCA), where custody has remained since its acquisition in April 2014.

    Related Materials

    Related materials are found in the following collections:
    East Bay graffiti photograph collection, 1995-2005. BANC PIC 2009.053. Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/search?style=oac4;titlesAZ=e;idT=UCb176094453
    Robert N. Simmons Photograph Collection, 1965-2014. AR.2014.024. Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas. http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/aushc/00497/ahc-00497.html
    Jack Stewart papers, 1926-2010. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/jack-stewart-papers-15863
    Big Apple street art / Rob Scott (Dr. Z.)., 2005-2009. New York Public Library. https://beta.worldcat.org/archivegrid/collection/data/472294777
    Art Crimes: Las Vegas, Nevada. 2006-2009. Farrell, Susan. https://www.graffiti.org/lasvegas/index.html

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Archivist, Mojave Desert Archives, 37198 Lanfair Road # G-15, Essex, CA 92332. Consent is given on behalf of the Mojave Desert Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Chris Ervin and Leslie Ervin, 2017 May. Assistance was provided by Stella Lind and Shirley Roby.

    Preferred Citation

    Charlie Michael Graffiti Photograph Collection. AR-2014-001. Mojave Desert Archives, Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association, Goffs, California. Date accessed.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Las Vegas (Nev.)
    Graffiti--20th century
    Street art
    Michael, Charlie (Charles Gregory)