At only 22 years old, Martha Cooper drove from Thailand to England – on a motorbike – she was the first female photographer at the New York Post and discovered Hip Hop and graffiti in the early 80s. On the occasion of her life work’s exhibition in Berlin, we talked to her about her most memorable trips, her influence on today’s street art photography and the impact digitization has on photography.


This is an extract of the 2021 Forward Print Magazine, which will be published this September and is soon ready to pre-order in the Forward Shop.


Your interest in photography started when you were only a little child. How did your parents support and encourage your passion?

My dad and uncle owned a camera store in Baltimore and both were avid amateur photographers. They made sure I had good equipment and knew how to use it. On weekends my dad used to take me on what he called “camera runs”, which were excursions to look for pictures. My mom was a high school English and journalism teacher so I became more of a journalist than an artist.


(c) Martha Cooper


At only 22 years old you drove 20,000 km from Thailand to Oxford, all alone on a motorcycle. How was it like and how did you feel on such a big adventure?

I started out alone but I met a Canadian on a motorcycle in Singapore and we traveled together the rest of the way – 16,000 miles over 5 months, mostly on unpaved roads. We drove through Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Russia. I think it would be very difficult to get the necessary visas to cross these borders today. At the time there were quite a few young people traveling back and forth overland between Europe and Asia. The route is nicknamed the “hippie trail”.


(c) Martha Cooper


You are mainly known for your work as a graffiti documentation photographer and capturing a big sub-culture movement in the early 80s, what was the most memorable moment during those first years of work in the scene?

Probably going into the yards with Dondi and being allowed to photograph him as he painted a whole car.


(c) Martha Cooper


Stay tuned for the whole interview in the 2021 Forward Print Magazine!