Martha Cooper (Thailand 1963-65) taught English in Thailand before journeying by motorcycle from Bangkok to London, where she earned a degree in ethnology from Oxford. Then she settled down in New York and went to work as a staff photographer for the New York Post. It was during this time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that she began to shoot some of the most famous photographs in the world.
She spent several years photographing elevated subway lines from empty lots the rooftops of buildings in a crime ridden South Bronx, capturing New York City’s state of urban decay. She was also able to gain the confidence of some of the most respected artists of this inner city community, such as DONDI, DURO, and LADY PINK. Assuming great risk, Cooper accompanied artists to train yards and lay-ups capturing many significant moments in aerosol art history.
Taking these photos, Martha and Henry Chalfant assembled, Subway Art, a book that has become a must-read for anyone interested in graffiti culture. Now 25 years and more than a half a million copies later, their bestselling book Subway Art is available in a large-scale, deluxe format with 70 additional photographs. Published in April by Chronicle Books, the landmark book is frequently credited as the catalyst and foundation for aerosol art movements worldwide.
Her photos, covering a wide variety of topics in addition to graffiti have appeared in countless publications throughout the world including National Geographic.
Today Martha is the Director of Photography at City Lore. Her’s is just another example of the amazing creative work done by RPCVs.
Note: You can read an interview with Martha by Matthew Newton at Computer Love that also has some of her photos.