top of page
  • Writer's pictureandy morris

Martha: A Picture Story

On Thursday the 4th of July the first in our monthly series of Graffiti and Street art documentaries will screen at Manchester's Cultplex cinema.

It seems more than fitting to be opening UrbanArtistry Presents.. with Martha: A Picture Story, as without the films protagonist Martha Cooper i wouldn't have started UA and definitely wouldn't be sitting here planning this new exciting project.

Myself, along with countless others were inspired many years ago by Martha and Henry Chalfont's photos that appeared in the now biblical publication Subway Art.

The book showcased graffiti at a time when many had never seen anything like it, especially on this side of the Atlantic and definitely not on this scale... without a doubt seeing these images (although i have to admit it i didn't see them till at least 10 years after the release) instantly kick started my obsession. Although the book has gone on to be a cult classic it didn't do that well on its release, possibly due to the fact that it's considered to be one of the most stolen books of all time!

This is probably the most accessible movie in the series and i feel that it's the perfect starting point, not only is this the incredibly inspiring story of an amazing photographer but also one that starts right at the epicenter of graffiti culture, a place like no other. The streets of late 70's New York.

Director Selina Miles first came to my attention with Infinite, her remarkable short ‘hyper-lapse’ video for Ironlak with Sofles, filmed in and old factory on Portugal. When its much bigger brother Limitless (see above) literally exploded on to Youtube in 2013 wracking up nearly 2 million views in 48 hrs, i knew she would be somebody to keep an eye on.

Selina followed this with the excellent short form documentary series The Wanderers, spending time with artists Guido Van Helton, Elliot Routledge, Georgia Hill, DabsMyla, Amok Island & Rone whilst they were working on community projects in her native Australia. This was originally only released locally but is now available to watch on Vimeo.

As soon as i heard production had started on Selina's first feature documentary and it was Martha:A Picture Story it seemed to me like a match made in heaven.

Selina had this to say about the film.

The serendipitous way in which this film came into existence is not unlike the way in which Martha came to produce her defining work in Subway Art. Like Martha, I was in the right place at the right time - a woman, a filmmaker, one of few directors with the relationships needed to properly access the graffiti world, and a personal connection to Martha developed by working alongside her to document street art and graffiti around the world.

As a photographer, Martha’s consistency and perseverance over her five-decade career has forged enduring relationships with many of her subjects. Every interviewee - from graffiti writers in Berlin to curators in New York City told me the same thing– “anything for Martha”.

The world in which Martha Cooper began her career, prior to the information age, is unrecognisable today, and never to be repeated. This film, and Martha’s fame, arrive at a point in history where the value of photographic documentation is at risk of becoming diminished even as it becomes more popular and accessible.

In telling Martha’s story this film seeks to examine the way we document and broadcast our lives, whether through the application of spray paint to a train carriage, posting a selfie online, or by publishing a historic book. At the core of the human condition is a need to proclaim our existence, to say “I am here”.This is what drove the first graffiti artists.

The time has also come to address the fact that senior women remain a gravely underrepresented demographic in media. Martha: A Picture Story is an affirming and inspiring story of a trailblazing woman still very much in her prime at the age of 75. I believe that Martha’s story can work to dispel some of the myths of what it means to be an older woman and send a strong message that women deserve to remain relevant, important and worthy of visibility, regardless of their age.

I hope this film can offer some lessons about blazing your own trail, reassuring our audience that it’s never too late for your true life to begin. I hope that the audience can find inspiration in Martha’s story, and be encouraged to look deeper, closer and more softly at the world around them.

Martha: A Picture Story

25 views0 comments


bottom of page