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Martha Cooper in Rome

Posted on Sep 14, 2013 | 0 comments

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Martha Cooper‘s exhibition “Street Signs,” curated by Antonella Di Lullo, opened at the Palazzo Incontro last night in Rome.  As part of the Outdoor Urban Art Festival, the huge show must have had over 200 images from Martha’s prolific career, which spans over 30 years. For those of you not familiar with Martha‘s work, I encourage you to pick up one of her seminal works, such as Subway Art, Hip Hop Files, or Street Play.  One cannot overstate the importance of Martha’s photographic documentation of street life and subcultures – which started with images of tattoo culture in 1970s Tokyo and extended to her incredible work with graffiti art in NYC in the ’70s and ’80s up through her comparative reportage on Sowebo in Baltimore and Soweto in South Africa.  Martha’s incredible ability to delve deeply into the subject matters she’s working on and really capture that moment make the exhibition a must for anyone in Rome who is interested in photography and the exhibition does a great job at showing the wide range of her work.

On a personal note, Martha’s work has served as an incredible source of inspiration for me as a photographer.  Her work started for me with my introduction to Subway Art and hearing interviews with her on how she would wait hours for a train to pass so she could get the perfect shot made me feel slightly less nuts for doing similarly crazy things to get good images of street art in Rome.  As I began to explore her work more and see what a rich and full photographer she really is, it inspired me to want to continue to push myself more.  At 70 years old, Martha is still traveling the world and pushing herself with new, creative projects. To be able to spend some time with her and also learn that she is not only a talented photographer, but a kind and generous person, was a great discovery.  In all my years in Rome, I’ve never seen an exhibition more crowded.  From aspiring young photographers to breakers to graffiti writers to street artists and beyond, a huge cross section came out to pay tribute and Martha was incredibly generous with her time.  Tirelessly taking photos and chatting enthusiastically with everyone.  Some of the best encounters were hearing some of Rome’s creatives let Martha know just how much of a source of inspiration her work was for them, as it brought NYC culture to a European audience.  It was also incredible to hear of previous encounters, such as Danno from Rome’s Colle der Fommento bringing along Hip Hop Files to point out a photo in the book that Martha shot in Rome in 1995.  It was just their second concert and the now highly successful rappers lit up with the chance to meet Martha and share that moment once again.

While she’s off to South Africa now, she left a huge mark on the city.  Thanks for coming to visit us Martha….we’ll see you again soon.


Martha Cooper – Street Signs

Part of Outdoor Urban Art Festival

Palazzo Incontro

via dei Prefetti 22

September 12 – September 29

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