Paul Harfleet: “The Pansy Project” is Evergreen in New York

Paul Harfleet: “The Pansy Project” is Evergreen in New York

This week the US Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the legality of job discrimination against LGBT people and Paul Harfleet is on the ground planting pansies to draw attention to a different kind of discrimination that some LGBT people meet on the street nearly every day.

Banner Image. Detail. “Nice-Shoes-Faggot!” For Alain Brosseau. Alexandra Bridge. Ottawa, Canada. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

A unique private/public protest/memorial to raise awareness since 2005, the founder of The Pansy Project has planted the namesake flower, in some circles a pejorative term against gay boys and men, in thousands of locations around the world to commemorate a place where violence or intimidation toward LGBT people took place.  Where it is difficult to find a good place to plant or to buy live pansies the gifted illustrationist simply paints one.

Paul Harfleet. “Marsha P. Johnson”. The Pansy Project. Greenwich Village, NYC. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

Understated and symbolic, the political and personal Street Art act bears witness to the brothers and sisters and others who society fucks with because they don’t fit traditional expectations of gender conformity. After nearly a decade and half, Paul says he will keep doing this work until it’s not necessary. You’ll probably need to help.

Recently we spent time with him on his visit to New York, watching him plant pansies and asking him questions about his practice.

Paul Harfleet. The Pansy Project. Central Park, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: When we think of monuments to historical events we often place them in locations that correlate with things that happened there. Can you talk about the similarities that this act of planting an ephemeral flower has to huge hulking brass statues in recalling our feeling and our memories?

Paul Harfleet: When I began to think about how to respond to my experiences of homophobia on the streets, I became interested in the particular nature of my memories of these attacks, they were rapid and fleeting and therefore I felt my response should be temporary and non-permanent. It felt archaic and overly municipal to begin making ‘permanent’ memorials to my own relatively minor attacks. A small unmarked living plant would add to the conversation, the flower could live and grow as I do through my experience. A tiny pop of color, unsanctioned by the city would reflect my own apparently illicit position in the urban environment.

Paul Harfleet. “We Kill a Faggot!”. The Pansy Project. Central Park, NYC. 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

I’m interested in how ‘permanent’ memorials became invisible over time*, their meanings sink into the fabric of the city, they become street furniture, their significance evaporates over time, unless they’re re-activated by an occasion or anniversary. Particularly when flowers are placed at war memorials, this and floral road-side memorials are echoed in The Pansy Project.

The exact location was loaded for me, so it was essential that each place should be altered by my intervention, it’s this that transformed how I remembered the streets. The ritual of planting a pansy has become a performative reparation on the street.

Brooklyn Street Art: Do you know of someone else who was inspired by your project and began a new one of their own?

Paul Harfleet. The Pansy Project. Alphabet City, NYC. 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Paul Harfleet: It’s difficult to know if and how my work has inspired others. I know that people have planted pansies to mark their own experiences of homophobia and I’m aware of some students that have made very different work that has been informed by The Pansy Project which is humbling. 

I am aware of other actions that explore homophobia, I was touched by the work of Nando Messias, “Sissy’s Progress” is a performance where the artist revisited the location they were attacked with a marching band, though I don’t think they were informed by the project, I enjoy the absurdity of the response to homophobia, which in itself is an absurd reaction to difference. 

Brooklyn Street Art: In the US we have had a serious and fiery debate about historical memorials that glorify a period of racism, a sort of glorification of figures who championed racism. How does our perception change when we learn about the significance of location and events that took place there?

Paul Harfleet: This has been an fascinating debate, it challenges the idea of a memorial becoming invisible*, this is an example of the memorial being re-activated by context. I think it’s invaluable to have these discussions. It’s a shame that the debate seems to be so binary; keep or destroy. As an artist I would be interested in reinvigorating these memorials rather than removing them.

Paul Harfleet. “Pride Flag Spat On”. The Pansy Project.
The Albatross, NYC. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

The fact they celebrate the achievements of a racist society should not be forgotten, it should in my opinion be remembered and challenged through art and education, small additions or amendments to these memorials could re-contextualise their meaning, there is an opportunity here to allow these memorials to a racist culture to become something that acknowledges the behavior of previous generations and act as a warning to future ones. We only have to look at the fragility of human rights at the moment to know how important it is to retain knowledge of previous injustices. 

Brooklyn Street Art: When one considers the long period that this campaign has persisted, you may wonder how Paul Harfleet continues to have enthusiasm for it. Do you ever lose interest? What inspires you to get back to planting pansies after you discontinue for a while?

Paul Harfleet: I’ve been working with The Pansy Project for almost fifteen years, for me the repetition is vitally important for how the work is read. Everyday someone is experiencing homophobia or transphobia, whether it’s micro-agression, government sanctioned or the most violent of murders, it’s always happening, so I feel I have a responsibility to continue using my art to highlight this injustice.

Paul Harfleet. “Kevin”. The Pansy Project. Alphabet City, NYC. 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

I’m not completely altruistic, I do have to maintain my own interest, through the project I’ve explored various ways of working from garden, jewellery and merchandise design to the writing and illustrating of a book; Pansy Boy that reveals The Pansy Project in a completely different way, most recently I’ve been exploring painting the pansies on walls where homophobia has happened.

All of these actions keep me interested. I am always trying to take the ‘perfect’ picture and document my work in new ways. I’m inspired by artists that work in very similar ways their whole careers, Sean Scully speaks about repetition; ‘I want to express that we live in a world with repetitive rhythms and that things are existing side by side that seem incongruous or difficult.’

Paul Harfleet. “Misbegotten Pansies”. The Pansy Project. Brooklyn Bridge, NYC. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

Brooklyn Street Art: New York has an incredible story in the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Can you tell us about one of the places in New York where you planted a pansy that was particularly meaningful to you?

Paul Harfleet: My visit to New York was incredibly important for me, unusually I funded this visit myself. I usually wait until I’m invited by a festival or for an exhibition, though I wanted to be in New York during the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall. I first came to New York in 2006 to plant pansies for the Conflux Festival.

These were the very early days of the project, some of the photos I took then were bad, since then I’ve gotten better at taking the pictures so I wanted to re-plant and document the pansy I planted at the Stonewall Inn to properly mark this historically significant location. Though I also planted new pansies, it was moving for me to plant one at Christopher Street Pier for Marsha P. Johnson, their life and death was complex and seeped in the injustices of time. This seems even more significant in America today when black trans women are so under threat.

Paul Harfleet. “Faggots. For Mark Carson”. The Pansy Project. Barrow St. NYC. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

As I write, we await the decision by the US Supreme Court on working rights for trans people, the fact that there’s even a discussion about this is an anathema to me. To quote the hashtags; Trans rights are human rights, we’re not equal until we’re all equal. In the US alone there has been 19 reported trans women murdered in 2019 alone – It’s staggering and heartbreaking.

I was also fascinated by the queer history of Brooklyn as described by Hugh Ryan in ‘When Brooklyn Was Queer’. I love the picture I took of the pansy I planted under the Brooklyn Bridge to mark the multiple stories of homophobia I heard about in his book, the quote comes from the complaints of local residents of how the Brooklyn Promenade was being used by men for cruising; “Misbegotten Pansies” was just such a perfect quote for this planting. 

Paul Harfleet. “Fucking Faggot!”. The Pansy Project. Queen Street. Blackpool, England. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

What I do more now is make a film about the places I visit, this has the ability to explore more of the story of each planting and helps share the project to new audiences, I’m working on a New York film now. Ultimatelty I adore each planting, they all mean so much to me as they all contribute to the entire body of my work. 

Paul Harfleet’s short film ‘The Pansy Project Canada’ will be shown at the Inside Out Film festival in Ottowa, Canada in October and his work will feature as part of the Homotopia Festival in Liverpool in November. For more information visit

*In a 1927 essay, acclaimed Austrian philosopher Robert Musil famously declared, “The remarkable thing about monuments is that one does not notice them. There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument.”

Paul Harfleet. “Narrowed eyes. Focusing in and down. Bristling. Bigger. Dominant. Circling. Feeling. Their Fear”. The Pansy Project. Saint Brigids. Saint Patrick Street. Ottawa, Canada. (photo © Paul Harfleet)
Paul Harfleet. “Beaten!”. The Pansy Project. Domkirkeplassen. Stavanger, Norway. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)
Paul Harfleet. “Don’t ask that guy he wants to hang them all!” President Trump comments on Vice President’s views on gay rights. The White House. Washington-DC
Paul Harfleet. Jaevla Homo!”. The Pansy Project. Vitsøygata. Stavanger, Norway. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)
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Shai Dahan & His Big Red Dala Horse Run Into Manhattan

Shai Dahan & His Big Red Dala Horse Run Into Manhattan

Artist, Street Art festival curator, now muralist. Shai Dahan has hel a number of roles related to the graffiti and Street Art scene since his teens. Born in Haifa, raised in LA, Dahan lived shortly on the East Coast before he pulled up stakes and moved to Sweden a decade ago to raise a family with his wife.

There he did something you don’t see a lot of artists do – he provided a huge platform for others to succeed by starting the “No Limit” Festival in his new hometown of Borås. We had the opportunity to be there a couple of times and witness the camaraderie and quality of a well-curated festival in a part of the world unaccustomed to large-scale public art, each time executed with finesse and near-zero drama.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Now he’s visiting New York for the first time in years and bringing his favorite muse, the Swedish Dala horse – a symbol that helped him meet HerRoyal Highness Queen Silvia of Sweden a few years ago, by the way. We spoke with Shai while riding the lift with him last week just before he headed back to Borås.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: This is the first time you painted a large mural outdoors in NYC since you participated with a group of other artists painting at the racetrack in Queens. How did it feel to be back?
Shai Dahan: It is incredible.  Since I have lived here I always wanted to do something large.  Even after moving to Sweden, I would see some great murals go up by Shepard Fairy, Kobra, Connor Harrington and I always thought “Wow. That has to be such a great personal accomplishment”. 

To me, it’s very personal. I left for Sweden in 2010.  NYC has been the biggest influence on my art. A lot of people would ask me who is my biggest inspiration, like Picasso? or Rembrandt? or someone more modern? but the reality is, it’s this city. The graffiti on the roller gates. The stickers on the doors. The Krink on the post office mailbox. This is the largest outdoor Street Art gallery in the world.  Turn any corner in the LES or Soho or Tribeca or Nolita and you can find an Invader piece or a Buff Monster Ice Cream or even a wheat-paste from someone random. 

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

This entire city is a giant gallery. So to come back to add to it is such an honor.  Especially since I left for Sweden, and spend the next 10 years building a professional art career painting the Swedish Dala Horses and becoming known in Scandinavia for that, to return on the 10-year anniversary to bring my horse to the city that inspired me, its nothing short of poetic.

BSA: The Dala horse is a beloved icon in Sweden. Yours, big and red, looms large in the Lower East Side. Is this a gift to the Swedish expats living in New York?
Shai Dahan: Its a gift for NYC.  From me.  This city gave me inspiration, friendships with amazingly talented artists and curators and writers (BSA shout out!), that I still maintain to this day.  This city got me my first art show at the Grey Dog Cafe where I hung a bunch of skateboards in 2007.  It’s the city where I took part in amazing projects like Mom&Popism, The Underbelly Project, the NY Ad Takeover and it’s the city that let me find my true talent and skills.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

So, in a way, I wanted to give the city a gift back. Give her something for everything she’s given me. Swedes, of course, appreciate it (it’s been in every single major newspaper back in Sweden since Saturday Morning and even the Swedish Mission to the UN posted it to social media) so clearly, it hit a soft spot for Swedes around the world. But for me, its something more romantic than that. It’s gifting a horse to New York City. 

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: You have been painting for a bit while among your subjects is these horses. Have you noticed an improvement with your technique and style since the first horse you painted back in Sweden?
Shai Dahan: God yes. But that is good. I almost feel like I am not technically a “professional” artist because that would mean I mastered my talent. I don’t believe I have. Clearly, my horses have improved in the last 10 years but I would be ignorant to assume my horses won’t continue to improve.  You can always improve.  But on that subject, it is fun to see my horse collection around the world. From the city of Gothenburg to the islands of Stockholm to a big city like NYC and even in the middle of the forest in Southern Sweden; My horses have a way to find a home anywhere they go. 

A lot of people ask me “Why horses?” my usual response is that I am terrible at painting cats, but the truth is that horses have been used in art for centuries. The famous Napoleon Crossing, the Whistlejacket which hangs in the London Museum, you had paintings of horses in battle and war, with kings and generals. We have sculptures in Europe and here in the US with these giant masculine horses.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The horses, throughout history, have always been used as a heavy masculine symbol. But my Dala Horses, they are shades of Red, sometimes Blue or Purple. They have soft “Kurbits” patterns (Scandinavian Floral Symbols) on their bodies. They take something big and strong and give it a soft and almost feminine display. It is something that takes the original Dala Horse and moves it forward; Reinvents it or reinterprets what it means to paint horses.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art:
You organized a very well-curated urban art festival in Boras, Sweden and your participation has come to an end. Can you tell us what big lessons you learned from this experience that could be useful for other people who embark on organizing street art festivals?
Shai Dahan: It’s important to approach curating festivals in the same way I approached my art career. It should never be about money. Never about fame. The sole driver for doing a great festival is to do it for your city. The people.

There is this old Greek proverb I love and used for many years as inspiration that says “Our Society grows great when we plant trees whos shade we know we will never sit under”.  Basically saying, if we create and make and do things that is good for our society, even if we won’t personally be around to see its long-term effect, it is still worth doing. That is how I approached this festival. I put the city residents as a priority. I wanted to be sure that the murals we do will have years if not decades of inspiration, and joy for them. 

Perhaps 20 years from now, a six-year old girl who sees these murals will be inspired to be the next Faith 47, the next Maya Hayuk, then I’ll feel like I did a good job. At the end of the day, life is what you paint it.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
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Vox Graffiti Roars in Berlin with New Fanakapan x 1UP Collabo

Vox Graffiti Roars in Berlin with New Fanakapan x 1UP Collabo

Berlin streets are regularly teeming with the Vox Graffiti in shouting chaotic profusion – and have been for decades. The bubbling laughing raging hordes proffer a visual conversation that often roars, and you’ll have to yell to get your voice above the rest.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

1UP and Berlin Kidz are two of the graffiti crews who reliably blast out their viewpoint, each with a uniquely unmistakable cadence and flair. This week one gilded the urban stage while the other was transformed upon it by British guest star Fanakapan with a ringing whoop, and with the angelic welcome of Alanis at the entrance, the Frühling party of Berlin is in full bloom.

Set upon a newly opened urban arena in Kreuzberg (thanks to the demolishing of a building adjacent to it) the actual bubble letters that distinguish the guileful Londoners’ letter style now rise above the rubble with multi-colored glee. Spelling out the 1UP letters in a way they never could, his interpretative take is framed by two runners of Berlin Kidz translation of Pichaçao-style colored cryptic tagging.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“As one can imagine this was just to good to be true,” says Sam Walter of YAP Productions, the organizers and facilitators of the lift and permissions. “Yes we did have problems with a security and also police since we had no official paper which gave us permission for the wall – but we got a couple of confirmations via phone calls,” he says with all the reassuring confidence of a Cheshire cat .

Together with the rest of the steel-spined-velvet-clad YAP posse, the 1UP crew and Fanakapan were celebrating on this vast muddy lot ringed in concertina wire as the sun set one night this week. Word spread quickly and the reunion at the wall felt like 50% Graffiti God magic mixed with 110% adrenaline helping everyone ignore the psychotic spring weather that warms you one minute and converts you into a popsicle the next.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The original motivation for the collaboration is based on an one-year-old idea between 1UP and Fanakapan, says Sam, “bringing those beautiful, shiny, giant 7-meter “1UP’ letters. These are young artists who take on a lot of risk to push the graffiti culture beyond its boundaries.”

“No animals, plants or 1UPs were harmed during this production,” quips the charismatic cultural curator and YAP team member Denis Leo Hegic as he texts process shots of the wall to the squad as the secret/public wall goes up.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“1UP carries the zeitgeist of Berlin out into the world like no other contemporary collective. The DNA of the crew is rooted in the streets of Kreuzberg, but the group also developed into a global family,” he says. The statement is only partial bravado, as a serious graffiti head in many cities will be able to tell you a rooftop, elevator, or train line that they’ve seen hit by the amorphous and amazingly anonymous crew that seems to shape shift and reconstitute itself – evidenced here where their enormous tag is painted by another artist entirely.

BSA: Is this a tribute piece to 1UP or is it a collaboration?
Denis Leo Hegic: It’s gravity graffiti. Collaborative and collective work is already included in their spirit “one united power”. Fanakapan managed to portray it in such a powerful and gravity defying way and gave us the largest 1UP letters hovering weightlessly over Berlin. 1UP is a ubiquitous tag in Berlin. You can’t help but be aware of it.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo

BSA: Did the authorities take any interest in visiting the site when Fanakapan was painting the tag, perhaps thinking that it was actually 1UP painting?
Denis Leo Hegic: We had quite an interaction with the local law enforcement. However, all the officers that appeared on site were being alarmed by other people and did not come on their own initiative.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: How did you get permission to paint on this wall?
Denis Leo Hegic: Through the intelligence of many. We managed to thrill lots of good, curious and courageous people who made everything possible: from a large wall in the center of Kreuzberg to the entire production. Fanakapan was extremely motivated and he literally blew those balloons up the wall.

BSA: Previously there was a building in front of the current wall. Now the whole wall is fully exposed, showing fully the long-running Alanis angel piece. Was any consideration given to the Alanis piece while planning the 1UP piece?

Denis Leo Hegic: Absolutely. I hate when some people say “curating a wall” or “curating a mural” – that’s such utter nonsense! How can one person possibly “curate” one single painting on one single wall? However, this wall succeeded to curate itself naturally. It’s a great composition with the two vertical stripes by Berlin Kidz on each side of the piece and being held by the Alanis angel from the ground. With Fanakapan’s addition of the 1UP bubble tag it became a marvelous “Kreuzberger Mischung” (Kreuzberg Mixture).

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
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“MARTHA: A Picture Story” Premieres at Tribeca. A Film By Selina Miles.

“MARTHA: A Picture Story” Premieres at Tribeca. A Film By Selina Miles.

BSA Exclusive Announcement
and interview with the director and the star of


A Picture Story

A Documentary by Selina Miles

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

BSA is proud to announce the world premiere of Selina Miles’ new full-length documentary on the life and career of New York photographer Martha Cooper at the Tribeca Film Festival next month.  Separated by four decades and an ocean or two, the Australian film director and the American photographer – each of whom has garnered serious respect in the myriad subcultures of art-in-the-streets with phenomenal storytelling abilities and an innate sense of timing – together land a remarkable film capturing life as a street-shooter, making the multi-chaptered story sing.

It is a fascinating visual sweep that illustrates the unusually gratifying paths that this ever-curious ethnologist charts on the streets (and below them) worldwide since receiving her first camera from her father at age three. The film is a well illustrated collage of a remarkable 70 plus year span showcasing Coopers’ 6th sense for people, urban culture, and burgeoning subculture. Viewers get to see the huge variety of interests she has investigated with amiable warmth and academic rigor – from the Peace Corps in Thailand to tattoos in Japan to graffiti train writing in New York to the daily lives of people in her native Baltimore.

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

With ample interviews and vintage video footage never seen before, “MARTHA: A Picture Story” follows Ms. Cooper across continents into the streets, through tunnels and over rooftops to provide illustrative background contexts for her decisions, her driving motivations, and her pure determination to succeed as a professional photographer – despite man-made and societal adversity.

We’ve been very fortunate to see this diamond of a documentary up close, and we can say that MARTHA is legitimate crowd-pleaser.

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

BSA spoke with Ms. Cooper and Ms. Miles for this auspicious announcement day about the new movie:

BSA: Your personal and professional history has often been about overcoming challenges and pushing aside barriers. Is there one new challenge you have gone beyond to participate fully in a documentary about you?
Martha Cooper: Well like most photographers, I’m more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it especially when speaking. I can’t say I’ve gotten good about overcoming being filmed, but I tried hard to give good footage.

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

BSA: One of the challenges of being a doc filmmaker is the number of hats you have to wear – sometimes perhaps feeling like you have to do everything yourself.  What did you discover about your preferred role/s on a film?
Selina Miles: Making a documentary is certainly a dynamic job and requires a mix of technical, social and creative skills. Learning from a photojournalist with 50 years experience such as Martha has been a wonderful experience. I started my career in video making by mucking around with friends making graffiti videos and shooting street art festivals, and the DIY spirit of both of these art forms really gave me an advantage on this project.

Not all directors know how to shoot or how to edit, but thanks to these early experiences I do know a little about all of these disciplines. Being able to just grab a camera and shoot, or to edit my own little concept videos was very handy in getting the project off the ground. That being said, being able to employ an amazing editor like Simon Njoo and having the mentorship of producers like Jennifer Peedom has also been a dream come true and really helped take this film to the next level. 

BSA: With the new documentary many people will learn about a more dimensional photographer than the one they most frequently associate with the name Martha Cooper. Why is this important?
Martha Cooper: I’m often called a graffiti, street art, or hip hop photographer but I don’t put myself into those categories. I would like people to understand that the common denominator in my choice of subjects is art in everyday life. I’m always looking for examples of how people are creative in their everyday lives. Graffiti is just one of many different examples.

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

BSA: Is there a special approach or formula that one tries to follow when making a story like this for a more general audience.
Selina Miles: I think that the interesting thing about this story, in particular, is that it explores a subculture that is so misunderstood by so many people. Everybody has seen graffiti and has an idea of what it is, but I still think that few people really understand why it exists and where it came from. There’s so many tropes and ideas about graffiti and those who practice it that are just plain wrong or oversimplify a very complex idea. It’s been an enjoyable and interesting challenge for me to unpack the facts and rules of this subculture as I see them, and step them out in a way that somebody completely new to the culture can understand and appreciate Martha’s story. 

BSA: Your photos capture a time and a moment and a technique of creation, but also often the more atmospheric and cultural energy of the street. What has drawn you time and again to capture this to share? Your own curiosity?
Martha Cooper: Not exactly. As you know, I like looking for things and collecting them. Photography is a challenging quest and taking a good photo is the reward. The nature of what I’m questing for can change according to time and place but in general, the world is more interesting to me if I have a camera. The possibility of photographing something makes me look at my surroundings with a keener eye than I would without a camera.

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

BSA: Martha stood on the shoulders of feminists before her, yet blazed some paths that were very much her own – frequently without support. What is one lesson a younger person may take from Martha Cooper when they watch this movie?
Selina Miles: Marty often says that people today don’t understand what it took to survive as a freelancer in earlier decades, especially as a woman and I completely agree. It’s a common thing that you hear but it’s very true, we are lucky these days to live in a world so connected and relatively accepting of all kinds of races, ages and sexes. That being said, there’s always going to be a frontier, and I hope that young people watching Martha’s story will be inspired to push beyond that frontier in their own way, and not be held back by anybody’s expectations of who or what they should be. And do it all the time with a smile and a sense of humor! 

MARTHA: A Picture Story.

Premiering at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place from April 24 – May 5th. Public tickets will go on sale on Tuesday March 26 at 11am ET. Tickets are extremely limited and we recommend purchasing tickets early.

Hashtags: #marthathemovie

Film Instagram: @marthathemovie

Martha Cooper Instagram: @marthacoopergram

Director’s Instagram: @selinamiles

For screening dates and locations and to purchase tickets click HERE

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