Raleigh, meet my main man Tane.
He benches hard.
“Hey, what’s up – my name is Tane. I’m a North Carolina cat currently residing in Charlotte, and I’m a bencher. For those of you who are not familiar with the term benching, it originated in New York City in the ‘70s and ‘80s with the subway graffiti movement. Kids painted trains at night and then sat on benches when trains came out the next day to see and get shots of them. The concept is the same, but the trains are different these days. When regulations changed and subway graffiti was kicked out, writers moved on to freight trains and realized these travel across the US instead of staying within 1 city. So I film and shoot freight trains.”
What are your first memories of seeing or painting graffiti?
“I came up in hip hop in the ‘80s and was aware of the 4 elements, including graffiti. Living in rural North Carolina, I didn’t see much graffiti firsthand until I traveled to Atlanta in the ‘90s. At the time, Atlanta was a mecca for underground hip hop and graffiti was blowing up. Artists like SEVER and TOTEM were doing work that I couldn’t ignore. I was hooked.”
Tell us a little about your relationship with graffiti?
“Realizing that NC would never be a hotbed for street graffiti, I started filming trains that rolled through my area. At first, I went out whenever I had a chance to document, but soon I couldn’t get enough. Now it has become a daily necessity. So maybe I’ll call my relationship an addiction. I have to see trains. I need to see trains. I’ve been fortunate to meet like-minded individuals from coast to coast, and I’ve been able to travel to see how they do what I do and vice versa. Everybody has different ways of benching – rolling footage, standing still, chasing cars. In a rural setting, you can catch both sides of a train. In a city, you might have one window to shoot through, and that’s it. It’s a challenge.”
What makes freight train graffiti unique and different from other types of graffiti?
“As the years went by, documenting trains, I realized there was a lot more rolling by me than just big colorful pieces. There’s a culture that was around long before graffiti artists realized the distance these trains were traveling. The moniker culture began to spark my interest, and now I enjoy catching a rare moniker as much as a whole car. There’s an underworld of people (train workers, hobos, graffiti artists) who utilize freight trains to communicate and document their daily life and travels. Graffiti on a wall stays where it is; graffiti on a train travels thousands of miles, rolling through major cities and rural areas. That’s what got me – I could find it wherever I went, wherever trains passed.”
I know you make different kinds of art. Tell us a little about the work you create.
“I like to think my art is evolving with my life and my experiences. I started using lights and light boxes to accentuate some of my photos and create a fantasy-like experience similar to what I feel when I see a dope piece in a train yard. Now my work is starting to be an assemblage of my adventures, incorporating photography with rail relics, skulls and other oddities I collect while walking through train yards and long lines. I hope it gives not only a visual perspective but also represents the texture of my world.”
How many photos do you estimate you’ve taken?
“Based on having one DSLR that gave up at about 200,000 clicks, I would estimate that I’ve taken at least twice that many freight photos. That number is growing quickly. Right now I probably shoot 1000 pictures a week, and I only post about 50 of them, so my archive is extensive.”
Tell us a little about the freight train graffiti scene. How did it start? What were the early years like? How has it grown from its early years?
“My view of the graffiti scene may be a little different from someone who actually does graffiti. I’ve gained some acceptance in this culture, but I’m also looking in from the outside. I’ve watched it go from a raw form of art, where you could watch all day and be thrilled to catch 10 pieces, to now, where it’s common to catch 30 pieces on 1 line. The biggest changes in the culture have been the growth of the internet and recent apps such as Instagram and Flickr. Don’t get me wrong – graffiti has always been about fame, but there were rules. If you were famous, it was earned and deserved. Today you just paint and post. You don’t have to work for it as much, and that’s damaged a lot of the integrity of writing. Maybe it’s just my age and seeing several generations come through since I’ve been doing this. A lot has changed, but one thing is certain: Real will always recognize real.”