Meet New York’s legendary-yet-unlikely street art photographer who influenced a whole generation of graffiti artists – and at the age of 75, is still capturing beauty on the fringes, with verve.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2019
Meet Martha Cooper, the sprightly 75-year-old photographer and unlikely darling of the international graffiti scene. Selina Miles’ charming doco will open your eyes to a whole subculture inspired by the work of one woman who documented an art form once considered a crime.
Martha turned her lens on New York subway trains in the late 70s and early 80s, creating a permanent record with the publication of Subway Art, her 1984 photo essay co-authored with Henry Chalfant. While a small print run didn’t generate a profit, unknown to the authors it became a hot commodity among street artists (and shoplifters). Known as ‘the bible’, it influenced subcultures around the world.
The film chronicles Martha’s early struggle as a female photographer with dreams of being a photojournalist, yet her ideas weren’t taken seriously. It’s a frustration that is echoed throughout her career. Her break came as the first female photographer at the New York Post, where the briefs varied from paparazzi assignments to news events across the five boroughs of New York.
We see glimpses of her international portfolio, but it is through her work back home documenting South Baltimore’s streets on the verge of gentrification that we see Martha’s passion in action.
Her love for people is infectious and the resulting body of work astounding. Not since Bill Cunningham New York has a documentary about a photographer so readily made you fall in love with both the images and the person behind the camera. She may be in her seventies but there’s no slowing down for Martha, a living legend who’s ‘still snappin’. - Rebecca McMillan
“Martha: A Picture Story is the kind of documentary that bestows upon you a new hero – that is, if you weren’t already hip to the groundbreaking photos and graffiti culture influence of Martha Cooper. Directed with infectious zeal, it’s a photographer bio-doc that always feels to be in motion, especially given its excellent editing, fascinating subject, and narrative ambition to honor those on the other side of Martha’s camera.” - Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com