It was this shock of the new that led to many a trespassing adventure and a lifelong fascination for graffiti. “One day a young boy said to me: ‘why don’t you photograph graffiti?’ He opened his note book and showed me his drawings. The minute I understood that there was a systematic designing and painting on the wall I became fascinated.”
Photojournalist Martha Cooper was one of the first to recognize the creative power of the New York graffiti scene. In the seventies she started photographing the first generation of spray can artists, now three decades later she is called the Grande Dame of Hip Hop Documentation and has produced a series of much celebrated photo books like Street Play and Hip Hop Files.
We talked to Martha Cooper about the early days, about the excitement of going into the railway yards at night, about the way graffiti was used as a secret language between the different NY boroughs.
The pictures shown during the interview come from her first book Subway Art, which she published together with that other famous chronicler of street life, Henry Chalfant.
One of her latest projects is We B*Girlz in which she presents strong, smart, independent B-Girlz and other Hip Hop females as role models for upcoming generations and to show everyone that there is a significant place for women in this worldwide culture. In addition, We B*Girlz wants to preserve the history of women in Hip Hop by encouraging everyone to collect and archive materials from back in the days and to document the scene as it exists now.
Pretty Cool People Crew: Interview: Sarah Domogala, Camera/Sound: Steffen Haars, Editing: Niels de Roos & Geert van de Wetering