Martha Cooper

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at the Urban Discipline exhibition in Hamburg, Germany 2001.[1]

Martha Cooper is an American photojournalist born in the 1940s in Baltimore, Maryland. She worked as a staff photographer for the New York Post during the 1970s.[2] She is best known for documenting the New York City graffiti scene of the 1970s and 1980s.

Life and work[edit]

Multiple graffiti artists painted this tribute to Cooper on Houston Street for her 70th birthday in March 2013[3]

Cooper picked up photography at the age of three.[2] She graduated from high school at the age of 16,[2] earned an art degree at age 19 from Grinnell College.[4] She taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, journeyed by motorcycle from Bangkok to London and received an anthropology diploma from Oxford.[4] Her first experience in artistic photography began when Cooper was in Japan, and capturing images of elaborate tattoos.[5]

Her most known personal work, the New York City graffiti scene of the 1970s and 1980s, began while working at the New York Post. On her return home from the Post she began taking photographs of children in her New York City neighborhood.[2] One day she met a young kid named Edwin who helped expose her to some of the graffiti around her neighborhood.[2] Edwin helped to explain to her that Graffiti is an art form and that each artist was actually writing his/her nickname. Edwin then proceeded to tell of the Graffiti King and asked if she would like to meet him.[2] This is when Martha met Dondi, the first one who allowed her to accompany him; while Dondi was tagging she would take photos of his art.[2] After meeting with Dondi, Cooper became fascinated with the underground subculture that these graffiti artists had created in New York City.[6]In the 1984 she put together a book of photographs illustrating the graffiti subculture called Subway Art.[2] It became known as the Bible of street art.[7]

In the 1980s Cooper worked briefly in Belize photographing the people and archaeological remains of the Mayan culture at sites such as Nohmul and Cuello.

Cooper in front of a Photo-Installation in Berlin, 2014.

She was a photography intern at National Geographic Magazine in the 1960s, and worked as a staff photographer at the New York Post in the 1970s. Her photographs have appeared in National Geographic, Smithsonian and Natural History magazines as well as several dozen books and journals. She is the Director of Photography at City Lore, the New York Center for Urban Folk Culture.

Cooper lives in Manhattan but is working on a photography project in Sowebo, a Southwest Baltimore neighborhood.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reisser, Mirko; Peters, Gerrit; Zahlmann, Heiko, eds. (2001). Urban Discipline 2001: Graffiti-Art. Urban Discipline: Graffiti-Art (in English and German). 2 (1st ed.). Hamburg (Germany): getting-up. p. 104. ISBN 3-00-007960-2. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Cooper, Martha (2004). Hip Hop Files: Photographs 1979-1984. From Here To Fame GmbH. ISBN 3-937946-05-5. 
  3. ^ New Houston Street Mural Marks Street Art Photographer Martha Cooper’s 70th Birthday, Benjamin Sutton, Art Info, March 11, 2013
  4. ^ a b "Martha Cooper Interview". February 21, 2001. Retrieved 2009-10-12. 
  5. ^ "Graffiti, Games and Hip-Hop Culture: Finding Art on the Street". The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2017. 
  6. ^ "Gritty and Graffitied: Street art with photographer Martha Cooper". CNN Style. Retrieved April 19, 2017. 
  7. ^ Vincent, Alice (September 11, 2013). "Nuart and the women who are revolutionising graffiti". The Telegraph. 

External links[edit]