In the 1970s and 1980s, photographer Martha Cooper became an unlikely hero of hiphop culture when she began photographing the newly emerging street art and graffiti turning up on the streets of New York City. She had been unique in seeing images worth preserving in both graffiti and the quickly changing street life in NYC neighbourhoods – now mostly lost to gentrification and uninspired city planning decisions.
A former Peace Corps volunteer and photographer for National Geographic Magazine, Cooper developed an interest in NYC street life while working as a staff photographer at the New York Post, seeing images worth capturing in a largely overlooked environment. Cooper went on to photograph an illegal graffiti “art attack” in Berlin, occasionally breaking the law in the process. Publication of her photography earned her countless fans worldwide, especially among the overlooked taggers and street artists that were her main focus. Her best-selling book was Subway Art, sometimes called the “graffiti bible.”
Now in her 70s, Cooper has become the subject of a documentary, Martha Cooper: A Picture Story. The film has its worldwide release at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, followed by a showing at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The film’s director, Selina Miles, is a self-taught Australian documentarian who specialises in work about art and artists; Martha Cooper is her first feature-length documentary.
For now, here’s a little more info about her pioneering work: