“1977, the Bronx was burning down. No one really wanted to write that graffiti was an interesting thing. But I don’t want to shoot something that’s done with permission. It’s an outlaw art. That’s what makes it thrilling.” (Martha Cooper)
Martha Cooper is an unexpected icon of the street art movement – a tiny, grey-haired figure running alongside crews of masked graffiti artists.
In the 1970’s, as the boroughs of New York City burned, she worked as a photographer for the New York Post, seeking images of creativity and play where others saw crime and poverty. As a result, she captured some of the first images of New York graffiti, at a time when the city had declared war on this new culture. Martha and her co-author Henry Chalfant compiled these images into the book Subway Art. However, the commercial failure of the book forced Martha to leave graffiti behind, moving on to document many other hidden cultures of New York.
20 years later Martha discovers she has become a legend of the graffiti world – a culture that has now exploded into a global movement. Subway Art became one of the most sold – and stolen – art books of all time, photocopied and shared by graffiti artists for decades.
At 75 years of age, Martha finds herself navigating a culture vastly changed. The small community born from struggle and adversity, has grown into a commercial industry fuelled by the rise of social media. Now every new piece of street art is immediately uploaded, and crowds line up for selfies in front of popular works. Martha struggles to find her place in this new world, driven by a passion for capturing the creativity that helps people rise above their environment.
Martha Cooper is a documentary photographer who has specialized in shooting graffiti, street art and architecture for over forty years. In the 1970s, Martha worked as a staff photographer at the New York Post. During that time she began to document graffiti and b-boying, subjects which led to her extensive coverage of early Hip Hop as it emerged from the Bronx. These photos, published worldwide, helped make Hip Hop the predominant international youth movement it is today.
Martha’s first book Subway Art (with Henry Chalfant), has been in print since 1984 and is affectionately called the “bible” by graffiti artists. Her subsequent books include, R.I.P.: Memorial Wall Art, Hip Hop Files 1980–1984, We B*Girlz, Street Play, New York State of Mind, Tag Town, Going Postal, Remembering 9/11 and Tokyo Tattoo 1970. She lives in Manhattan but can frequently be found at street art festivals worldwide.
Martha’s work has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide and published in numerous magazines from National Geographic to Vibe. Recently Martha has been shooting an on-going personal project comparing neighbourhoods in Baltimore, U.S.A. and Soweto, South Africa. She is presently working on a book with 1UP, a notorious graffiti crew in Berlin.
Director Selina Miles works extensively in digital online production and the global street art movement. Her style of energetic and vivid direction has brought her acclaim in that space – her short ‘hyper-lapse’ video Limitless became a globally recognised rendition of graffiti art, garnering over 12 million views on YouTube. She extended her examination of the street artist at work with her online series The Wanderers, in 2017. Her current production Martha: A Picture Story has developed out of her unique access to this global art movement, merging immersive storytelling with bold direction to create a distinctive feature documentary.
Martha: A Picture Story: video on demand for free from 26. June till 5. July via Cinesquare platform.
The screening will be in English with Slovene subtitles.
Organisation: Kino Šiška