Martha Cooper, legendary graffiti photographer

She brought graffiti culture to the world with her camera. 📸 Now, over 35 years later, Martha Cooper is featured in a new documentary.

Martha Cooper, legendary photographer of graffiti

Photographer Martha Cooper helped expand graffiti culture to the world. Now, her story is told in the documentary “Martha: A Picture Story" from Selina Miles. Cooper started to capture graffiti-covered subways cars and taggers in the 1970s. It coincided with the use of spray cans and markers. In 1984, she co-authored a landmark book, Subway Art, which helped graffiti become a global art form in the entertainment wolrd beyond the trains of NYC society. Cooper graduated in art from Grinnell College, Iowa, and became the first female photojournalist to be employed by the New York Post. Her introduction to the world of graffiti came through a feature story about children playing on the streets without their parents.

“To me, it makes the city more interesting as you're walking around to see things that are written by hand on the wall as opposed to seeing tons of advertising everywhere. I deplore the fact that there's so much advertising all over New York.”

While Cooper didn’t initially think graffiti was visually appealing, she was intrigued by the people creating the art on the streets of New York. In 1995, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani signed the Anti-Graffiti Task Force Executive Order to combat graffiti, stating that “a cleaner city is a safer city.”

“I know It's not as if I love every piece of graffiti that I see on written on every wall and I don't like it if I see it on like a marble statue for example or a beautiful building. I would prefer the graffiti writers stick to writing their names on things that don't matter.”

In the last four decades, the street art scene has completely changed although it’s still to gain the recognition she says it deserves.