Martha Cooper — New York style graffiti

I was shooting some kids building a clubhouse in a vacant lot on the Lower Eastside and a guy started yelling at me to go away. So I got in my car and he came running up and motioned for me to roll down the window. I saw that he had a knife so I refused but before I could start the car and drive away, he kicked in the window. This was in the 70’s while I was working on the series of photos I published in Street.

I photographed in a spirit of historic preservation. I thought that graffiti was a phenomenon unique to New York City that would disappear and I would have a record of it. I never predicted that New York style graffiti would spread worldwide. Of course I also hoped that I would be able to publish stories about graffiti that would help me reach my primary goal of becoming a solvent freelance photographer.

I intensely photographed graffiti for 3-4 years from 1979-1982. When I first began, I was a staff photographer at the New York Post. Eventually I left that secure job to be able to spend more time photographing trains. I mostly shot trains in the South Bronx and Harlem, and tags in Washington Heights. After leaving the Post, I had to look for photography work to support myself. In 1982, while I was documenting graffiti, I was also shooting freelance stories for National Geographic. For example I shot a cover story about pollen, a far cry from graffiti ! (с)

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