Book Review: Probation Vacation: Lost In Asia by Utah & Ether

Published on: May 23rd, 2016 | Last updated: August 15, 2016 Written by:

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This book is a must have for transit vandals, and a ‘you should probably get this’ for those interested in transit systems and exploring.

The Facts:
If you’re familiar with the graffiti game at all, no one behind the creation of this book needs any introduction. For anyone unfamiliar though, it is written by Utah and Ether, the ‘bonnie & clyde’ of worldwide graffiti. It is produced by The Grifters, one of the best brands in the transit vandalism game today.

The book is 180 pages. A limited edition hard cover version with a press run of 500 copies sold out within hours of being released. These copies are signed & numbered by Utah & Ether. A softcover version with the same content is now available (unsigned). This review is based off a hard cover copy. Roughly 35 pages are text, and the rest are photos.

Ordering: The book is printed and shipped from Bulgaria. Transit time to the US was roughly 2 weeks. USPS required a signature for delivery, so if you don’t want one of those annoying USPS pink slips, be home or have it sent to your side bitches’ place.

Packaging: It comes in a plain discreet cardboard box wrapper. No plastic. 100% recyclable.

The layout:
I hate the layout. The stories are up at the front of the book, while the back is where the photos are. If you want to connect story with photos, often you have to jump around a little. The page numbers are not on the edges of the pages, but pushed towards the binding, making them a little harder to find. In the actual text, words break at weird points (assuming this was made with InDesign, I blame Adobe for this longstanding hyphenation bug). Perhaps the structure of stories first, photos after is how books are laid out in europe/russia? I will admit this is the first book I’ve purchased that was printed in Bulgeria.

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The Content:
The content of this book is second to none, and will frankly never be rivaled in terms of originality. The entire book is about Utah & Ether’s travels through Asia and all of the transit systems they fucked with along the way. They painted trains in places where there is no graffiti culture at all. That alone makes this book a ground breaking original. They pulled off dozens of transit missions in places that no one has come close to painting. They pulled off these missions despite not knowing any Asian languages, and the dealing with the constraints of simply being Caucasian in some cities where being white is obscure and bound to draw curious looks. (Reminds me a lot of being in the ghetto parts of NYC in the 1980s, perhaps less hostile though). The context against which this book was produced automatically makes it one to pay attention to.

It’s not just context though. The writing and stories contained within are as brilliant as they are crazy. These stories are everything you’d hope for in any crime story: tales of evading cops, security, and even the military. By playing a smart game, they get away from frequent situations that would put lesser artists in jail much quicker. And bear in mind, they do this as fugitives perpetually on the run.

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The photos do the book justice. All of the photos are clean, and not overprocessed. There’s also no noise in the photos (which is often hard to pull off when shooting in less than ideal lighting). When shots are blurry, it’s because it’s an action shot and the blur of movement only adds to the scene. I think the only real ‘mistake’ I saw was a single photo with a dark oval at the bottom: emblematic of using a built in flash with a wide angle lens (I’ve made this one myself).

There are two things I’d love to have seen a little more of in terms of photos: the first being more shots of security (often hard to pull off – especially without a zoom lens and often while on the run), and the second being of context. There’s only one showing camps near the tracks in India, where they mention in the text that people live in the trains and right next to the tracks. Both of these points are a bit nit-picky I’ll admit. The Grifters vimeo channel has footage that adds some of this missing context.

If you’re into trains in general, and exploring, you’ll appreciate the shots of hangers, layups, and blatant fence clipping and wall climbing. Evading the ever-present security theater is always fun. So too are seeing the news reports on the Grifters vimeo channel that really add even more color to the content of this book.

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Conclusion:
The amazing thing here is that this book only focuses on transit. Those who follow Utah & Ether’s exploits know that they’ve been up to way more. They have dominated streets in many Asian cities, eluding the authorities and even fending off paid goons sent by a cowardly police-informant rival (Cope2). The content in this book really feels like a scratch of the surface of what these two most prolific, talented artists have achieved. This book documents a team unmatched in graffiti history. They don’t ‘kill’ canvases and boring gallery shows with the same rote played out styles. They kill transit and illegal walls, and refuse to apologize for it. This books IS everything that graffiti should be. It plays on a raw, nasty level that many self-proclaimed kings and queens are too shook to even contemplate. You put this book down and just find yourself wanting more. I absolutely hope there will be additional books from Utah & Ether to follow.

You can purchase the softcover version here.

If you’re a publisher of any books / movies etc that are graffiti or exploring related, by all means contact me at control(@)ltvsquad.com for info on how to get reviewed here.

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  • About The Author

    Bad Guy Joe

    Bad Guy Joe
    Bad Guy Joe knows more about the NYC underground than anyone else on or below the surface of this planet. He has spent nearly 30 years sneaking into NYC's more forbidden locations. When not underground, he's probably bitching about politicians or building something digital. 
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