Martha Cooper is a documentary street photographer and photojournalist from New York City. She has been photographing teenagers mostly as they rebel against adults, graffiting the streets, sex, violence, rock and roll, young love etc since the 1970s and 80s. She has documented hip hop culture since the 1980s. She is the author of books such as Subway Art, New York State of Mind, Hip Hop Files, We B Girlz and Street Play.
One of Martha’s books that I looked at ‘Tag Town’ is a book of photos when Martha back in the 80s, shot New York Cities infant tagging graffiti scene back when there were just a hand full of people out there doing it. This was the absolute beginning of what you call street art today and Martha recorded it. She would sit for hours waiting for one train to pass after getting a call from a writer letting her know it was coming. Martha did this out of curiousness, pure interest and love. She thought this was a movement of the minute. She had no idea that her lens was capturing the very beginning of one the greatest art movements of our time. I love how Martha invades peoples personal space when she goes out into the street, she stops to connect with anyone that’s out doing mischief, I like the rawness and honesty about this. Exposing the rebel things that people do by photographing it, Is what gave outsiders a reason to question Martha ‘Why is she doing this?’, but it is simply to document humanity’s sinful nature, the realism about the realm that we are living in.
Throughout Martha’s career of photographing graffiti and the streets, she one day came across someone called Edwin. He made her aware of the graffiti that was around many areas in New York at that time. Edwin helped to explain to her that Graffiti is an art form and that each artist was actually writing his or her nickname. Edwin then went on to introduce Martha to some well know talented graffiti artists; this is when Martha met someone called Dondi. Dondi was the first person that allowed her to accompany him. While he was doing graffiti on walls she would take photos of his art. After this Martha ended up putting a book together of photographs illustrating the graffiti subculture called ‘Subway Art’.
Looking at Martha’s images, I see some are staged and others she has just taken within the moment. I have added both these strategies towards my documentary shoots, some being real to the moment, and other times getting someone to for eg go on their skateboard so I can document their social life. Either way I am still showing what people are doing to make up their day. Documentary is fun and it can be experimented with in many ways. It doesn’t always have to be captured within the moment, sometimes you can change a little here or there, the image is still being taken whilst the person continues doing what they were doing.
Website: http://www.oldskull.net/2009/03/martha-cooper/ viewed 28/11/14
Website: http://www.doobybrain.com/2010/06/14/martha-cooper-talks-about-graffiti-tags/ viewed 28/11/14
Website: http://prettycoolpeopleinterviews.submarinechannel.nl/martha-cooper/ viewed 28/11/4
Website: http://hyperallergic.com/102/martha-cooper-tagtown-goingpostal/ viewed 28/11/14
Book: Martha Cooper.Dokument forlag,1 edition (5 Feb 2009).Tag Town.