Looking through my photos from Bangkok last year, I found the featured image (above).
It has the kind of juxtaposition I love: with visual messages overflowing in every object, including the female body.
Most notable of all the messages was the one that said: “BNE Was Here.” This is a message you will encounter time and time again if you take street photos in the cities of the Far East.
For example, here’s another one (below). I picked it up because of the couple’s distinct oddities: a girl with a large floppy ribbon in her hair and a boy silently holding a cigarette carrying a colorful bag in front of him as if it contained something very valuable.
The man, who was about to get into the pick-up truck, glared at me – probably worried that I was filming some kind of illegal transaction.
Can you see the sticker in the background: “BNE Was Here”? I think it adds something extra to the image – not mystery, exactly, since these stickers are everywhere – but a reassuring sense of familiarity when it’s needed most.
If you missed the media coverage of BNE, I guess I should give a brief explanation. BNE (or BNE) is the logo used by someone who started doodling with traditional graffiti nearly thirty years ago. After a few years he turned to stickers, churning out them by the thousands and covering our cities with them: mainly New York and Tokyo, but also Prague, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
Especially Bangkok. Here’s another example:
(I took this shot on my way to lunch: it’s my son in front with his arm around his mom’s shoulder.)
Of course, there is so much graffiti and stickers in Bangkok that you could be forgiven for not paying attention. However, the media started to take notice and articles about BNE appeared The New York Times And Forbes magazine.
Journalists even managed to track down BNE and get his comments, knowing that he not only produces around 10,000 stickers a month but also gets help from his colleagues to install them. Its presence on major websites, such as Flickr and YouTube, is larger than that of many multinational companies.
Men With Brands
After building a brand that sold nothing, “BNE” saw the light (so the story goes) and decided to donate it to a good cause. He explained to Forbes magazine that he was painting a wall in Jakarta when a woman said it must be amazing to be rich enough to use paint this way. So he agreed to paint his fences too, listen to his life story, and learn how people in his town have to live without food because they spend so much money on water. This was the start of the BNE Water Foundation.
“BNE is a global movement dedicated to helping people in need gain access to clean, safe drinking water and basic sanitation. We raise funds + awareness with art and BNE products.”
Click on BNEwater.org today and you will be taken to our Water Damage Removal & Air Conditioning Repair service. My goodness, what happened to all those donations?
In 2014, scandal rocked the BNE venture when ANIMAL (animalnewyork.com) announced: “In an act of chutzpah that would be brazen even by the standards of the graffiti world, where playing each other’s games is commonplace, a global sticker bomber under the pseudonym, BNE, has committed the scam claims to have collaborated on a t-shirt with Banksy, the undisputed king of street art, for the benefit of World Water Day.
Apparently, BNE falsely claimed to be collaborating with Banksy, whose work, unlike the ubiquitous BNE stickers, had at least a mix of invention, variety, and humor.
Failing to receive any t-shirts — and knowing the products would not be authenticated by Banksy — donors began asking for their money back. PayPal reversed all payments and closed the BNE account. In a follow-up post on ANIMAL, BNE was described as a “BNE sticker bomb scammer”.
The Invisible T-Shirt
This is a story about our time. Hundreds were prepared to believe an anonymous street artist when he said: “You can’t see the art on this tee until it arrives at your door.”
It doesn’t matter. Don’t bother showing us the product. Don’t tell us your name. We will only give you money. And don’t tell us how you spend it.
BNE relies heavily on the power of photography to spread the word and have a presence on the Internet, taking its “brand” beyond city streets and into the minds of people everywhere. I guess I keep spreading the same virus with this article.
If true, I applaud BNE’s intention to help overcome the water crisis in developing countries. If it wasn’t genuine, then I would cry “Shame!” The message itself: “BNE Was Here” is not always true. In most cases, “BNE Was NOT Here” is closer to the truth.
BNE stickers will probably appear in future photos, next time I go to Bangkok. I’m not too worried. It is inconspicuous in comparison to the Sainsbury’s bag in England. The color in your face ruined a lot of my local street photos, until I finally embraced it in the shot below. Thank goodness THAT is gone.