Martha Cooper: The Unlikely Hero of Street Art

Martha Cooper: The Unlikely Hero of Street Art - Factual America Podcast
photo by Janette Beckman
photo by Janette Beckman

Martha Cooper is an iconic American photojournalist and the unlikely hero of street artists across the globe. She documented New York’s underground graffiti scene in the 1970s, at a time when street art was looked down upon as being immoral and lacking in artistic merit.

But Martha instead fell in love with the scene and in 1984 published her photos in Subway Art. After a failed launch, the book has gone on to be one of the most sold, and stolen, art books of all time. It also influenced a generation of street artists, including OSGEMEOS.

Selina Miles is the Australian director of the new feature documentary Martha: A Picture Story, which follows the life and work of Martha Cooper. Selina shares what she’s learned about Martha’s life, her global reputation, and what parts of her life the film documents.

We also talk about how Selina and Martha met, how Selina came up with the idea for the documentary, and what her thoughts are on the value of street art.

“Martha’s now in her 70s, still traveling the world documenting street art in places like Mongolia and Tahiti.” – Selina Miles

Time Stamps:

00:16 – The trailer for Martha: A Picture Story.
03:15 – Where the film is available to stream.
04:35 – Who Martha Cooper is and what she is known for.
06:04 – What her book Subway Art is about.
07:19 – Why her work didn’t receive much attention at the time.
09:39 – The impact the book had on street artists.
13:26 – How Martha found her style of artwork.
15:06 – The perspective that Martha brought to the breakdance scene.
18:46 – Why Martha found it hard to find her place in the world of photography.
22:15 – How Selina met Martha in Tahiti.
25:01 – How she persuaded Martha to make a feature documentary.
27:47 – How the documentary captures the evolution of photography.
30:03 – Martha’s views on street art.
32:41 – How her early life informed her artistic vision.
33:55 – The value of photography these days.
36:10 – The type of recognition Martha is now receiving for her work.


Martha: A Picture Story (2021
Subway Art
Henry Chalfont
Alamo Pictures

Connect with Selina Miles:

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