Martha Cooper


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Some consider it to be art, others call it vandalism. I definitely belong to the first group. At least when it’s not just scrabbling but when there’s a message behind the whole image, when some style or at least some effort can be recognized. I’m talking about street art.

Martha Cooper is almost a celebrity in the street art and graffiti scene – and this although she doesn’t even belong to the Urban Artists. The 77-year-old woman has been taking photos since her childhood. She claims that she always knew that photography is her calling. In the 1970s she achieved what many can only dream of: She worked as a photographer for a renowned newspaper. One morning, on her way to work, she noticed the New Yorkan trains decorated with graffiti and she began to take pictures of them. Her fascination with the New York behind the scenes, the underground and the visible decay of the city increased every day and finally she quit her job at The New York Post. In the 1970s, New York was going through an economic and mainly a social crisis. Large parts of the population were almost left to themselves with only few perspectives. Martha thinks that the “make something out of nothing” typical of the graffiti and hip hop culture at that time fascinated her in particular.

Over a year she spent her free time every day in New York’s underground scene shooting pictures. At the end of the year, however, she kept looking in vain for media that wanted to publish her works. Nobody was willing to present the sort of vandalism as which graffiti were then perceived by many people. But when she then got the chance and the photos were published, they started a new trend all over the world. Hip Hop and graffiti became fashionable, evolving from an underground to a globally recognized form of art to which today even renowned museums dedicate their exhibitions.

At present you can see a collection with Martha’s photos at the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York.

20 April– 3 June 2017
Steven Kasher Gallery 515 West 26th Street, NYC

I particularly like something Martha said in her Ted X Talk Video. She said that she admires the street artists because they didn’t care about the recognition of art galleries and art critics. They simply made their thing.

She’s so right about that. Photos as well shouldn’t be taken to only satisfy the aesthetic emotions of a large group of people. Photography is an art and it should mainly achieve one thing: It should express the artists behind the images. Martha Cooper’s life story made one thing very clear to me: It isn’t important how profitable and famous the thing you do actually is but that you keep following your own mission and fulfilling your own passion. If that makes you famous, great! If not, then at least you won’t be lost on your path as an artist and you remain faithful to yourself.

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Photos by: Martha Cooper Photo source: Brooklyn Street Art

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