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The Urban Dada Book

In 2014 I published the first edition a book of my Urban Dada photographs on Amazon.com. It presents 90 of my best photos taken in three countries during the past 30 years. 

Go to Amazon to find out more!

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What is Urban Dada?


My concept of Urban Dada emerged as a gradual aesthetic realization during decades of street photography. Urban Dada can appear on building walls, street lamps, dumpster lids and alley doors. I saw these street amalgams of graffiti, poster bits, written words and other ephemera more as accidental collages, which were more interesting when viewed as a whole. I took my Urban Dada photographs over many decades, from the early 1980s to 2013. Most I shot in Manhattan, but also found similar aggregations in Edinburgh, Scotland; Barcelona, Spain; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Venice, California; and Boston, Massachusetts.  As I collected these photos, they reminded me of the aesthetic ideas of Dada during the early 20th century, like the collage art of Kurt Schwitters or the photography or Aaron Siskind. I decided to call them “Urban Dada”.


Dadaism’s philosophy was to create utterly random images from disparate words, pictures and materials. But Dada collages were always created intentionally as art, as in the work of French artists Raymond Hains, Jacques de la Villegle and Mimmo Rotella. By contrast, Urban Dada is created randomly by many people without any particular reason. I do not equate Urban Dada with the political ideas of Dadaism, or its attempts to redefine art.  

My criteria for Urban Dada collages are the following:

1.    They had to be assembled unintentionally, different from street art by artists like Banksy.
2.    They had to be created by many different people over a period of time, and each contribution was not intended to create a work of art by itself or next to adjacent ephemera.
3.    Urban dada should be something that accidentally coalesced and would then be destroyed in a few weeks. In that sense, Urban Dada is a glimpse of something transient, like patterns on beach sand.
4.  I never add anything or subtract anything from the street collage.

I am certain that when most people encounter Urban Dada on the street, they do not consider it art. Most probably do not even notice it, or if they do, consider it defacement of public property. Perhaps they only see Urban Dada’s individual elements, but not its aesthetic whole. Therefore, my intent in photographing Urban Dada is to challenge the viewer to see these aggregated bits of paint, paper or ink as a form of unconscious social art, or an unintended reflection of our culture.

About John Tidwell, the Photographer

John Tidwell has been taking photographs since he was about 9 years old, when his mother gave him a Nikkormat SLR camera, and taught him to print and develop film. Photography has been a part of his life ever since.

He got his Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Columbia University and spent more than a decade as a news and documentary producer in New York and Washington DC. Mr. Tidwell’s photography also accompanied his published writing for several magazine articles, including a trip to Southeast Asia and Central America to report for a major conservation organization.

He continues to work as a freelance writer, teacher and artist living in Philadelphia.