13 from 2013 : Martha Cooper “A Train Runs Through Mandela’s Kliptown”


Happy Holidays to all you stupendous and talented and charming BSA readers! We thank you from the bottom of our socks for your support this year. The best way we can think of to celebrate and commemorate the year as we finish it is to bring you 13 FROM 2013 – Just one favorite image from a Street Art or graffiti photographer that brings a story, a remembrance, an insight or a bit of inspiration to the person who took it. For the last 13 days they will share a gem with all of us as we collectively say goodbye and thank you to ’13.



No matter how far she strays in the world photographer Martha Cooper is never far from the work that made her famous in the graffiti and Street Art world. An avid globetrotter, Ms. Cooper is always observing and shooting in new cities.  In recent years she has been pursuing a project entirely unrelated to her “Subway Art” days, an ethnographic study and cultural photographic comparison of two similarly named spots half a world away from one another: Sowebo (in Baltimore, MD) and Soweto in South Africa. This fall while shooting for her Sowebo/Soweto project, Cooper’s past suddenly came rumbling across the tracks above her, and she new she had one of her favorite shots of 2013.


Kliptown. Soweto, South Africa 2013. (photo © Martha Cooper)

A Train Runs Through Mandela’s Kliptown

I took this photo in September in Kliptown, an historic district in Soweto, South Africa. Although pursuing a project that had nothing to do with street art, I couldn’t take my eyes off the commuter trains with graffiti passing through. One evening I waited in the heart of Kliptown hoping to catch a shot of a painted train. This was exactly how I had photographed subway graffiti in the early ’80s in the Bronx. Back then I could never have imagined that 30 years later I would be attempting a similar shot on the other side of the globe.

By great good fortune a train passed by with graffiti in colors complimentary to my pre-selected foreground. The tiny child at the door of the typical corrugated iron Soweto shack was a poignant touch I could not have anticipated.

Kliptown is famous for its Freedom Charter signed in 1955 in an early protest against apartheid. Graffiti represents a different kind of freedom. Here’s to freedoms of all kinds, to the memory of Nelson Mandela who lived in Soweto and to a better life for the children of Kliptown and beyond.

~ Martha Cooper

Location: Kliptown, Soweto, South Africa, 2013.




Check out our Brooklyn Street Art 2013 Images of the Year by Jaime Rojo here.


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