Martha Cooper. Subway Art. NYC Graffiti. Few great artistic movements have been as well documented as the rise of graffiti and now street art, still a relatively young movement but one which holds more power than almost any other major art movement before it. The use of spray cans to write almost unintelligible letters, words and names brought this new art movement direct to the people, no admission fee, no ticket required. Walk around any major city across the globe today and you will no doubt find scribblings and throw ups, talking in a language which is becoming more and more recognised yet still despised by local councils and city officials.
Martha was a pioneer in that she saw the beautiy in the chaos of 1970's New York and felt compelled to capture photographs of these tags and train cars, painted with style and ease in the middle of the night by young hoodlums. Martha entered their world and captured them at their most vulnerable creating striking portraits of some of the biggest artists now living and working today! 'Life Work' showcases some incredible prints from the archives with Futura 2000, Lady Pink and the whole Wild Style crew appearing in shot after shot, a moment in time which is both beautiful and brutal, the stark black and white images reflecting what life was like on the streets of NYC circa 1970 but it doesn't end there.
Martha has continued to document her ever changing New York and as well as being instrumental in producing the graffiti bible for the next generation of aerosol artists has also dedicated her time to capturing these new faces from the traditional graffiti heads to the key figures in the modern street art movement. Shepard Fairey, Invader, ROA, OS Gemeos and many more make an appearance in the show. Her influence is almost brought full circle with one section dedicated to a print by Shepard which sits next to the original photograph its characters have been lifted from, capped off nicely with a portrait of Shepard mid paste up, print in hand.
I have to say seeing these images up close and examining them both as a fan of the artists and Martha's work was a real treat. The Basquait section alone blew me away, seeing his original scrawls documented, all of them now gone like the artist. We're inundated with images day after day but Martha's always stand out. Still travelling, still snapping, Martha's passion for her subjects is clear to see and is an inspiration. Its funny to think how far graffiti and street art has come since its early days on the subway cars of NYC and without a doubt a huge part of that is down to Martha so we should all be thankful for her and her camera.
'Life Work' is on at Stolen Space until 28th of this month so get down quick! You can read a great in depth interview with Martha by Solaris 100 here.