Martha Cooper aka kodak girl: street art can’t be stopped

September 14, 2008

There are several interesting connections among ethnologists / anthropologists if they happen to be also photographers: being artistically hooked up to dance (in all forms), having a passion for street art (graffiti or murals), and interest in music (in all forms, too!).

(Oh, I forgot also one thing: collecting vintage stuff – old photo gear or analogue and plastic cameras)

Photo: Martha Cooper (c)

I guess it’s about that ethnology and anthropology seek complete openness and devotion to the OTHER… and without it… well, it’s simply impossible to move from one spot to another…

Martha Cooper is a peculiar street art photographer documenting and mapping the ephemeral forms of expressiveness like graffiti, female hip hop artists – b-girls and street art in general for about thirty years.


Interview Part 1 (HipHop Files, Street Play)

.Cooper has a specific style (although she calls it ordinary) because her shots of aerosol art are always incorporated with surroundings and architecture, giving to the spray paint art complete social note, which is exactly the background of it.  During eighties, in the telephone and fax machine era, she had a privilege to be the first informed about some new graffiti in the hoods of Bronx in New York City.

Photo: Martha Cooper (c)

Martha Cooper is interested in a particular form when it’s unknown to the wider world… in the moment when it becomes popular she’s moving her lenses in some other direction, something that has to be discovered… in a way she was a real pioneer in documenting the New York’s ‘most bombed’ architecture and hip hop scene.


Interview Part 2 (HipHop Files, Street Play)

.The monograph ‘Subway Art’ which Cooper published back in 1984 with the fellow photographer Henry Chalfant was the first book ever considering and treating graffiti painters as contemporary visual artists. The book still has its cult position among bibliophiles and street art fans because most of those graffiti paintings presented in, don’t exist anymore… they were repainted, removed or just ‘vanished’ as inappropriate and an act of pure vandalism. Let’s say covered with social dust…

Photo: Martha Cooper (c)

She noticed (during her travel in Europe) that there’s also an existing scene of female break dance and hip hop dancers scattered through the Europe. Basically, the idea of girls dancing break dance was developed more in Europe, than in the States…

Photo: Martha Cooper (c)

So, she decided to support the project B*Girlz which is fostering the idea: ‘of independent B-Girlz and other Hip Hop females as role models for upcoming generations to show everyone that there is a significant place for women in this worldwide culture.’
And 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.’

Photo: Martha Cooper (c)

Martha Cooper knew during her childhood that she wants to be a photographer. The main ‘perpetrator’ was a gift she got from her parents: Kodak Brownie Camera. Exactly this camera was responsible for her passion of collecting vintage advertisings designed for Kodak Girl – launched in 1893 and intended for ‘a fashionable, young, vibrant and independent woman’ willing to take some cool shots. She emediatelly recognized herself as a Kodak Girl. Today, along with the project B*Girlz, Cooper is running a web site Kodak Girls – dedicated to unrecognized and anonymous women photographers worldwide, where you can see her collection of vintage Kodak Girl advertisings and, her recent hobbie, plastic toys somehow connected with photography.

Vintage posters from M. Cooper’s collection

Cooper graduated ethnology in Oxford, and have degrees in art and antropology. She has published photographs regurarly in National Geographic, Natural History and Smithsonian magazines. At the moment she’s the Director of Photography at the New York Center for Urban Folk Culture entitled City Lore, paralely working on street art photo project in Baltimore.

Pink Poddle and Little Girl taken by Martha Cooper

Martha Cooper’s books are: R.I.P.: New York Spraycan Memorials; Hip Hop Files: Photographs 1979-1984, From Here to Fame; Street Play; We B*Girlz; New York State of Mind.

Cooper still has incredible sense for other people, particularly young forces and energies… capturing kids and young people in Bronx while inventing new ways of communication… artworkz emerged from a particular background, unfortunately, being condemned as criminals. Her role in the history of urban and contemporary art, as well as photojournalism is definitely unquestionable.

Vintage photo from  M. Cooper’s collection

‘I consider myself more of an ethnographer. My photography is very literary documenting something. I use it to collect and collect and catalogue images.’ Martha Cooper

p.s. Check Martha Cooper’s interviews at Submarine Channel: prettycoolpeopleinterviews and The Hip Hop Files

April 1, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

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April 1, 2009 @ 6:28 pm

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April 1, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

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April 1, 2009 @ 7:18 pm

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