MARTHA COOPER - HIP HOP FILES: Photographs 1979-1984

February 1, 2005 - March 20, 2005
Central Library, Grand Lobby

Hip Hop emerged in the midst of extreme deprivation and decay in the South Bronx, as urban youth created new forms of artistic expression. Fortunately, photographer Martha Cooper was at the right place at the right time to document the people that created the music, dance and art that would become known worldwide.

Artist's Statement

"The first question people usually ask me is, 'What made you photograph Hip Hop?' My answer is that the words "Hip Hop" were not even in use in the late 70s when I began this project. From 1977 to 1980, I was a staff photographer for the New York Post. One day I discovered a boy who showed me drawings of his nickname that he painted on walls. After I saw that these kids were more graphic designers than vandals, I became hooked on graffiti. My idea while documenting subway graffiti was to attempt to show the paintings within the context of the culture that created them."

"In 1980, while on another Post assignment, I happened upon some kids breakdancing in Washington Heights. They explained how they battled each other with dance and I began to document that. The next thing I knew, there was a cultural revolution going on. It included music, dance, and art, and I was standing in the middle of it! In 1982, the words "Hip Hop" appeared in print for the first time. I thought I was photographing a specifically New York phenomenon. Never did I imagine Hip Hop would spread like wildfire to every country in the world."

Martha Cooper is a documentary photographer who has specialized in urban vernacular art and architecture for more than 25 years. Her photographs have been extensively exhibited and published worldwide. In 1984 Cooper published Subway Art (Thomas and Hudson) in collaboration with Henry Chalfant, often referred to as "The Bible" by graffiti aficianados. She is the Director of Photography at City Lore, the New York Center for Urban Folk Culture and lives in Manhattan.