All posts tagged: Mark Bode

Martha Cooper, Photographer of Art on the Streets for Six Decades

Martha Cooper landed in LA yesterday and will spend the next week installing her photos and their remixed new versions beside them, even flanking hers like stereo speakers. Since the press release has gone out we thought we’d share with you the bio written by Steven P. Harrington and the promo photo by Jaime Rojo which will appear in a special issue of The Art Street Journal dedicated entirely to her to come out this week.


Martha and Pablo at home, with a portrait of her sitting on a train car with camera in hand painted by Os Gemeos overlooking the scene. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Martha Cooper, Photographer of Art on the Streets for Six Decades

Written by Steven P. Harrington, this article is featured in The Art Street Journal vol ii – issue v.

The daughter of a Baltimore camera store owner, Martha Cooper’s romance with photography began in the 1940s when bobby-soxers and penny loafers were the sign of edgy youth culture. Her dad, an amateur photographer himself, gave his small girl a camera and together they hit the streets in search of adventure. “Yeah, my father used to take me out and we would take pictures. That’s what I thought photography was…we were just looking for pictures,” she recalls. Six decades later, Cooper is still looking for pictures; meanwhile, many works from her archive are cited as pivotal recordings of the birth of hip-hop culture and its plastic art form, graffiti.

During the cultural upheavals of the 1960s, Cooper earned a Bachelors of Art degree in Iowa, taught English for the Peace Corps in Thailand and rode a motorcycle from Bangkok to obtain a graduate degree at Oxford. As a freelancer and staff photographer in Japan, Maryland and Rhode Island in the early 1970s she moved to the media and art center of New York City to catch bigger fish. Landing a job on the staff of The New York Post in 1977, she discovered that the resistant and competitive boys club of photographers there were reluctant to countenance this scrappy young woman shooting hard news stories and Studio 54 celebrities.

Hungry for discovery, Cooper would spend her time to and from assignments in bombed-out neighborhoods, where she took pictures of kids entertaining themselves with games they devised on the street, often with the humblest of materials. It was during one of those trips that she stumbled on graffiti and the members of its community. She met a young boy who suggested she photograph the work she was seeing, then showed her a stylized drawing of his name, or piece, in his notebook.

Then he asked her if she wanted to meet “The King”.

Following this lead to Brooklyn, Cooper met Dondi, the citywide-famous graffiti writer who kept a published photo of hers in his black book because its background contained one of his graffiti throw-ups. Cooper quickly realized that she had stumbled into a lively street culture and became an avid student of the teen writers she befriended. By the time she took her last news picture for the New York Post in 1980, her primary desire was to capture as many pieces, tags, and trains as she possibly could find. Today, she remarks on her near-obsessive devotion to documenting New York’s graffiti: waking before dawn to hit the street, waiting five hours for a freshly painted #2 train to pass with the sun at her back and countless secret adventures with vandals in train yards, evading transit police in order to pursue a shot.

Joining efforts with fellow graffiti photographer, Henry Chalfant, Cooper proposed putting together a book of their documentation. The pair endured multiple rejections from publishers while lugging around a big “dummy” book with their pictures glued to the pages. Eventually, however, they landed a deal and Subway Art was published in 1984. Although not an immediate success, it came to sell half a million copies and established itself as a holy book for fans, aspiring artists and art historians worldwide.

By the time the 25th anniversary edition was published in 2009, generations of graffiti and street artists had been influenced by it and the hip-hop culture Cooper and Chalfant had captured had gone global.

In the intervening years, Martha Cooper never stopped shooting. Her love of serendipity on the street and the exploration of cultures led her to publish thousands of photos in books such as R.I.P.: Memorial Wall Art, Hip Hop Files 1979-1984, We B*Girlz, Street Play, New York State of Mind, Tag Town, Going Postal, and Name Tagging. Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide and published in numerous magazines including National Geographic, Natural History, and Vibe. While she is still shooting graffiti, street art and the occasional break dance competition today, Cooper’s current project involves documenting people and events in Sowebo, a drug-riddled neighborhood in her birthplace of Baltimore.


Steven P. Harrington is editor-in-chief of and co-author (with Jaime Rojo) of Brooklyn Street Art and Street Art New York, both by Prestel Publishing. He and Jaime Rojo are also contributing writers on street art for The Huffington Post.



Photographs by Martha Cooper

Martha Cooper ; Remix


Original remixes of these photographs in a range of media by Aeon, John Ahearn, Aiko, Bio, Nicer & B-Gee, Blade, Blanco, Mark Bode, Burning Candy, Victor Castillo, Cey, Cekis, Claw, Cosbe, Crash, Dabs & Myla, Anton van Dalen, Daze, Dearraindrop, Jane Dickson, Dr. Revolt, Shepard Fairey, Faust, Flying Fortress, Freedom, Fumakaka, Futura, Gaia, Grotesk, Logan Hicks, How & Nosm, LA II, Lady Pink, Anthony Lister, The London Police, Mare 139, Barry McGee, Nazza Stencil, Nunca, José Parlá, Quik, Lee Quinones, Kenny Scharf, Sharp, Skewville, Chris Stain, Subway Art History, Swoon, T-Kid, Terror161 and more.

Carmichael Gallery is pleased to announce Martha Cooper: Remix, an expansive group show featuring highlights from Martha Cooper’s photographic archive and works by over 50 artists who have created their own unique interpretations of her iconic, historically significant imagery. There will be an opening reception for the exhibition on Saturday, April 9 from 6 to 8pm with Martha Cooper and several of the participating artists in attendance. The exhibition will run through May 7, 2011.

Click on the link below to read BSA interview with Martha Cooper:

Carmichael Gallery

5795 Washington Blvd

Culver City, CA 90232

April 9 – May 7, 2011

Opening Reception: Saturday, April 9, 6-8pm



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Martha Cooper Remixed by Chris Stain and Billy Mode

More pictures and an interview here with Martha Cooper, Chris Stain, and Billy Mode about their new mural in Brooklyn and her new show next month. An inspiration to many graffiti and street artists, her photos are the basis for the Martha Cooper: Remix show at Carmichael and why she and Street Artist Aiko are wheat pasting 170 of them on a wall at the MOCA Art in the Streets exhibition opening the following Saturday.

When we were thinking of Martha’s work and and the concept of remix, it easily tapped into the span of her career; both the hip-hop analog dj technique of vinyl sampling as well as the digital cut-and-paste practice of modern mashup artists who are running the streets at the moment. While it is true that Ms. Cooper has captured a vast archive of history, it’s the high regard she has earned and the relationships she has engendered that are the reason that many of these Remix pieces are so powerful. An ethnographer by training and one of the most important photographers of street and street art culture for the last four decades, Ms. Cooper remains amazingly approachable and outright enthused about her photographs and the people in them, as if she had snapped them just yesterday. And she’s pleased to meet you.

Brooklyn Street Art: Of course the city has changed a lot in the last 35 years, and you probably have also. Can you share some insight with us about what the city was like for young photographers at that time?
Martha Cooper:
I first came to NY in 1975 and for me the city was a place of opportunity. Although it was the center of publishing at the time, there weren’t that many photographers. You could call up an editor and he (usually he) would pick up the phone. I loved roaming around neighborhoods looking for pictures. Graffiti was very much underground and few people even realized that what kids were writing on walls and trains was their name. My fascination with graffiti and b-boying grew out of photographing the unknown, of being allowed entry into a world that most adults didn’t know existed. The city was going bankrupt, very few security systems were in place, and both photographers and graffiti writers could get away with a lot.


This original photo taken on Houston Street in NYC in 1978 from which Chris Stain borrowed the boy on the right. (photo courtesy of Ms. Cooper © Martha Cooper)

Brooklyn Street Art: You used to get up before dawn to catch a picture of a train, and sometimes wait 5 hours for the right shot. How did you pass the time when you had to wait for hours? Crossword puzzles?
Martha Cooper:
There was no down time. Trains were constantly going by in both directions. I had to stay alert watching for just the right painted car. All of the trains in my photos were moving.


Brooklyn Street Art: So how did you get this idea for the theme for the show?
Martha Cooper: From you! (laughs) Over the years I’ve seen a lot of people using my photographs, authorized and unauthorized. The Carmichaels had asked me to do a solo show. After considering a number of options, I thought about what we had done, what you had done in that blog post. We talked about how artists had used my work and I thought, ‘Why don’t I do that?’ So that’s how it happened.

Brooklyn Street Art: Way before this show, Street Artists like Chris Stain and Shepard Fairey interpreted a number of your photographs in their work.
Martha Cooper:
Some photographers don’t want their photos to be used as a basis for someone else’s art but mostly I don’t mind. Both Chris and Shepard asked permission and in both cases the collaboration has had unexpected positive results, one of which was connecting with BSA.

brooklyn-street-art-chris-stain-billy-mode-martha-cooper-jaime-rojo-03-11-web-2Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: And what have the responses been like so far?
Martha Cooper: I got a lot of really heart-warming responses from people I’ve been in touch with over the years. A lot of old-school and new-school artists and that made me feel good.

Brooklyn Street Art: Was it surprising to see the response?
Martha Cooper: I didn’t know what kind of response I was going to get. It was a little scary to write to people. I decided right in the beginning that I was going to write personal notes to everybody. So you guys and I talked about it and we made a list.


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Well, we tried to include old-school people you were very familiar with and a number of the new people that we were familiar with.
Martha Cooper: Yes, many of whom I had met. As it turns out, Miami was really a hotbed of street artists for me in the two years I went down there to shoot at Wynwood during Art Basel. And I would not have known some of them had it not been for Basel, so I have to thank Tony Goldman for that.


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: We’ve worked with Chris Stain before and we’ve been talking to him about doing another wall together. When we told him about this show he said “Why don’t I do a Martha piece?”
Martha Cooper:
I didn’t know who Chris Stain was. He contacted me a couple of years ago by email and just said that he had done work using my photographs. And a little dialogue developed and I went over to his studio in Brooklyn and I met him and it all worked out. He had already seen my books – he doesn’t take the exact picture, he takes parts of it.

Brooklyn Street Art: Yeah, he takes elements from your photographs and puts them in a different context. And that’s okay with you, it doesn’t offend you that he takes a portion of it?
Martha Cooper: No! It flatters me. You know, just the idea that people are looking at these pictures and liking them enough to base their own art on them, to me is flattering. Maybe not to everybody, but to me, I like it. Especially if you asked permission and at least you are acknowledging that you are borrowing work from me. Then it is fine.


Chris and Bill take a break from the cold winds to talk about the piece (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: So tell me about this piece and the boy in the picture. Do you remember when you first saw that picture?
Chris Stain:
The first time I saw that picture was in Martha’s book, “Street Play” because she gave me that book. The image is from her photograph. I had been working from other images of hers and I felt bad working from all these photographers work.  I thought, “Maybe I should just try to contact them and seeing if it’s okay if I work from them.” Because some of this stuff was going into paintings and I’m selling them and some of them are going into the streets, which doesn’t really matter.

So she was the first photographer I contacted. I was like, “Dear Ms. Cooper, I’m a big fan of yours, have been for a long time….” I talked about Subway Art, this and that. “…and I’m making paintings from some of your photographs and I was just wondering how you felt about it.”  She wrote me back and she was really into it and she was really cool with me using the images and we just kept going. She said, “I want a painting” and we met up one day and I gave her a painting and she gave me her book “New York State of Mind”. It went from there.

…..This whole wall, Billy and I did it in Miami but we’ve changed it up.


Chris Stain and Billy Mode. The second day in the late afternoon begins (photo © Jaime Rojo)



Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: You did it for Wynwood? Primary Flight?
Chris: Yeah Primary Flight like three years ago. The train behind the boy says “Cries of the Ghetto” and I was told that it was originally a piece done by Dezz and Ski, and somebody else told me it was Shane. So I’m not sure who originally did it. But I’ve always liked that train a lot and I liked the words a lot so we just incorporated the whole thing together.

And tonight Bill re-did the lettering to bring it up to date a little bit and to add our own kind of twist to it and that’s what we got.

Brooklyn Street Art: So really it’s a collage of a few images.
Chris Stain: Actually it’s a collage of a photo that I took, a photo of Martha Coopers’, and I don’t know who originally photographed that “Cries of the Ghetto” train – I’m not really sure exactly who did it – whether it was Martha or Henry or somebody else but I’ve always liked it.


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)



Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: But thematically it is a good way to tie together her history ..
Chris: Yeah because it has the kids, which she was always photographing, together with the graffiti aspect that she’s really well known for.

Brooklyn Street Art: And then as a technique that you use, it brings the whole into the Street Art thing that is going on today.
Chris Stain: Yeah it’s bringing it up to what people are doing with street art now.

Brooklyn Street Art: How many pieces of hers have you done?
Chris Stain: I’ve probably done six or seven, with one that’s unfinished. I’ve done the one with Lady Pink holding the spray paint cans, the one with boy taking the tire off (or putting it on, I can’t tell), the one on the roof, the “Cries of the Ghetto”.

Billy Mode: You did that one with the kid holding the dove on the roof.

Chris Stain: Yeah the kid holding up the pigeon on the roof with one hand and there’s another one with the same boy where he’s holding two pigeons close together.


A Chris Stain piece from a couple of years ago is based on a photograph by Martha Cooper (© Chris Stain)

Brooklyn Street Art: Oh yeah! Gaia is doing that one for this show!
Chris Stain:
He is?  Cool, that’s cool.
Brooklyn Street Art:
Well he loves doing birds, and feathers, and animals.
Chris Stain: Well Gaia’s a bird brain, that kid, so it makes sense.


Chris Stain’s reference screenprint for the wall (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Billy Mode updated the letter style for this new piece. Here’s his sketch. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: So Billy you changed the style of the lettering for “Cries of the Ghetto”. How would you characterize this new style?

Billy Mode: Windy style!  It’s loose, I don’t know. The original style in some ways it’s fitting to the imagery in that it is classic but I kind of see the “Cries of the Ghetto” as being more victorious now. I want those letters to be more celebratory and have more energy to them. A lot of my letter styles are, not necessarily flamboyant, but  they have a lot of flair, a lot of motion. I’m really just bringing in my own take on it.  There’s some influence from other people’s style, and I think that’s what happens in graffiti art is you get motivated by what other people are doing.


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Martha, your blog for 12oz Prophet is followed quite heavily. What is your favorite part about writing a blog?
Martha Cooper:
My favorite part is not the writing part! For me the best thing about blogging is that I get to make use of photos immediately instead of just archiving them for possible future use as I formerly did.


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Stickers are a really popular medium for expression on the street today and you point to Twist, Cost, and Revs as some of the first to use them. What makes stickers so interesting?
Martha Cooper:
Stickers are everywhere and yet they’re invisible to the uninitiated. Keeping your eyes peeled for stickers turns a walk down any street into a treasure hunt.  It’s a fun way to navigate a city.


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: After years of searching for perfect shots, what’s the Holy Grail now?
Martha Cooper:
Now I’m more worried about archiving my photos than taking them. I have enough pictures to last several lifetimes but I need to be able to find and access them.


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Your photographs of New York City youth and their art inspired the art of the next generations. What do you think is your legacy as a photographer of this pivotal period?
Martha Cooper:
In the pre-digital era, culture was disseminated by newspapers, magazines and books. I was part of a small corps of mostly freelance photographers, filmmakers, and journalists who documented early hip hop. By paying attention to subjects that might have been overlooked by mainstream media, we helped start and spread the art, dance, and music movements, now called hip hop, worldwide.


Martha with her beloved 21 year old cat Pancho (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Martha Cooper : Remix
Featuring original photography from Martha Cooper and original remixes from Aeon, Anton van Dalen, Aiko, Barry McGee, Bio, Nicer, B-Gee, Blade, Blanco, BurningCandy Crew, Cey, Cekis, Chris Stain, Claw, Cosbe, Crash, Dabs & Myla, Daze, DEARRAINDROP, FAUST, Flying Fortress, Freedom, Fumakaka World Dominator, Futura, Gaia, How & Nosm, Jane Dickson, John Ahearn, Jose Parla, Kenny Scharf, LA II, Lady Pink, Lee Quinones, Anthony Lister, Logan Hicks, The London Police, Mark Bode, Nazzareno Stencil, Nunca, Mare, Quik, Evil Dr. Revolt, Shepard Fairey, Skewville, Subway Art History, Swoon, T-Kid, Terror161 and Victor Castillo.

Coming to Carmichael Gallery April 9.

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Chris Stain and Billy Mode “For Martha”

This weekend for BSA was a little bit of street art and graffiti history alchemy, transmuted by the presence of the lady we were all doing it for, Martha Cooper. To celebrate her birthday and the soon to be unveiled “Martha Cooper: Remix” show at Carmichael Gallery in Culver City, CA, Street Artists Chris Stain and Billy Mode sprayed aerosol into gold using imagery from her photography as base inspiration.

brooklyn-street-art-chris-stain-billy-mode-for-martha-jaime-rojo-03-11-web- 2Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)

On this bitterly cold and windy Brooklyn night, the good humored boys were blowing through cans on tops of shaking ladders, continuously working against the elements for what Chris called “some xtreme painting”. While taking a break to warm up inside, everybody had some chocolate birthday cake and Martha flipped through Subway Art with Chris and Billy, answering questions and relating stories about what it was like for her to capture graffiti on trains in New York in the 1970s and what it’s like to see Street Artists like Chris Stain interpreting her photographs today. 

brooklyn-street-art-chris-stain-billy-mode-for-martha-jaime-rojo-03-11-web- 1

Chris Stain and Billy Mode in the reflection of rainwater pooled  (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Our first conversations in September ’09 with Martha for a posting on BSA that discussed art inspired by her work evolved into a 50-artist “remix” show featuring old-school graff writers and new guard street artists next month.

“I thought about what we had done, what you had done in that blog post. We talked about how artists had used my work and I thought, ‘Why don’t I do that?’ ,” Martha remarks on the formation of her show plan.

It has been a genuine honor to be a part of the process and to see the pieces coming in to Ms. Cooper’s studio for the show. It’s also been intoxicating to imagine the relationships and personal paths that have intersected in the pursuit of artistic expression. Each invited artist has a very personal take on the influence of her photographs from a 40 year span, and the directions they take the work are myriad. Watching Chris and Billy create this large scale wall tribute in Brooklyn reminds us of the interconnected worlds of Graffiti Art and Street Art and how Ms. Coopers’ photography has contributed to the history and artistry of both.

Here are a few shots by Jaime Rojo of the installation for a sneak peek of this great experience – with a full length feature interview with Martha and commentary about the nature of the image from Chris and many more images coming this week.


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Chris Stain and Billy Mode (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Photo © Jaime Rojo


Martha Cooper : Remix
Featuring original photography from Martha Cooper and original remixes from Aeon, Anton van Dalen, Aiko, Barry McGee, Bio, Nicer, B-Gee, Blade, Blanco, BurningCandy Crew, Cey, Cekis, Chris Stain, Claw, Cosbe, Crash, Dabs & Myla, Daze, DEARRAINDROP, FAUST, Flying Fortress, Freedom, Fumakaka World Dominator, Futura, Gaia, How & Nosm, Jane Dickson, John Ahearn, Jose Parla, Kenny Scharf, LA II, Lady Pink, Lee Quinones, Anthony Lister, Logan Hicks, The London Police, Mark Bode, Nazzareno Stencil, Nunca, Mare, Quik, Evil Dr. Revolt, Shepard Fairey, Skewville, Subway Art History, Swoon, T-Kid, Terror161 and Victor Castillo.

Coming to Carmichael Gallery April 9.

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