MARTHA: A PICTURE STORY gets 7.5/10 Street Art for the World

Directed by Selina Miles

Featuring Martha Cooper


It’s quite the understatement to claim that photographers are essential in bringing all sorts of cultures of the world right into our homes. One such legendary photographer, Martha Cooper, was instrumental in documenting the graffiti scene as it became an identifiable aspect of New York’s look throughout the 70s and 80s.

What makes her so appealing is how much she devotes herself to communities she’s not a part of. A 30-something year old middle class white lady is a far cry from the kind of person making graffiti in subways and on trains in this era, but she immerses herself within these communities so whole-heartedly and with such a keen eye that sees the art in these crimes, she actually does become a part of these communities through her photography work.

This documentary covers just about her entire career, but puts a nostalgic focus on her unlikely,  yet strong bond with New York graffiti and their artists, which she excitedly photographed and allowed to be seen by enthusiasts from all over the world. Martha: A Picture Story clearly shows the published work she had created, including the numerous books she made which showed not just New York street graffiti, but the tattoos of the Japanese in the 70s, the abject poverty of Brooklyn in this same time period, and the breaking culture that emerged in the 80s.

It is as much a documentary about the various cultures she photographed as it is about her. Martha’s own life-story is quite quickly summarised, but this documentary is more about the inquisitive nature she developed, camera in hands, as she explored the cultures she wanted to discover more about, even if they were just a few blocks away from her apartment.

Martha: A Picture Story opens and closes with scenes of her following masked anonymous graffiti artists as they burst into a train station or freight-train stop to make their mark, before quickly ducking off as not to be caught. These moments have a wholly cheeky and heart-pounding touch to them, getting a glimpse of the warm and loveable Martha enacting her naughtier side. Martha laughs as she self-deprecatingly downplays her impact, claiming “I’m never going to be a Google Doodle”. With a documentary that so superbly exposes the work she’s done in putting a global spotlight on these communities, hopefully she ends up being wrong about that.


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