Photo Courtesy of Martha Cooper
Photo Courtesy of Martha Cooper


Martha Cooper, Documentary Photographer

Getting a sit-down with Martha Cooper took years of polite but light interactions. A series of friendly encounters, like a “Hi Martha” at an art opening, a “What’s up Martha” at the Bowery mural on Houston, and chatting it up with someone at a gallery that was representing her at the time, eventually led to us recording a conversation about her journey at a co-working space in midtown.


Listen to Martha Cooper tell her Story


Martha’s decades of capturing graffiti culture offered a wealth of insights into what it’s like to be a documentary photographer. One of many takeaways was her emphasis on persistence. Martha made it clear that rejection is inevitable. But it’s through that perseverance, the ability to dust yourself off and keep moving forward, that creative growth happens.

Her own experiences abroad echoed this sentiment. Whether navigating Shanghai without speaking the language or traversing countries by motorcycle, Martha highlighted the power of resourcefulness and adaptability. Sign language, for example, became a bridge across cultures, a testament to the human spirit’s ability to connect.

Publication, however, could have been smoother. Martha’s story of facing countless rejections before finally seeing her book “Subway Art” published was a stark reminder of the resilience required to bring creative visions to life. Her journey underscored the importance of believing in your work, even when the world seems hesitant.

Then, we got into digital technology. We discussed how the internet has fundamentally changed how art and photography are created, shared, and consumed. It was a glimpse into a constantly evolving landscape, a reminder for creators to embrace new tools while staying true to their artistic core. This conversation was before the boom of AI. It would have been nice to get her take on it.

What truly resonated with me was Martha’s perspective on the relationship between artists and those who document their work. She emphasized a symbiotic connection, where both parties elevate the other. There was a deep respect for the artistic process and a commitment to showcasing art and the artists behind it in the best possible light.

Throughout our conversation, glimpses of Martha’s personal journey emerged. From her time in the Peace Corps to her decision to pursue photography in New York, her anecdotes were windows into the choices that shaped her life. One particularly inspiring aspect was her long-term project in Baltimore, where she earned the name “picture lady” by giving photographs back to the community she documented.

The conversation concluded with a powerful message: trust your instincts and pursue what you’re truly good at. This resonated deeply, a reminder that forcing a path can lead us astray.

Meeting Martha Cooper was more than just a conversation; it was an encounter with a creative force. Her journey reminds us to embrace challenges, stay true to our artistic vision, and leave our mark on the world.

This short reflection on my conversation with Martha Cooper offers a glimpse of his story. However, for the full spectrum experience, try scrolling back up and listening to the entire conversation to unlock the complete story.

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