Martha Cooper

Martha Cooper

Urban photographer, NYC, USA.

Martha Cooper is a documentary photographer who has specialized in shooting urban vernacular art and architecture for over forty years. Her books include Subway Art, a collaboration with Henry Chalfant, R.I.P.: Memorial Wall Art, Hip Hop Files 1980-1984, We B*Girlz, Street Play, New York State of Mind, Tag Town, Going Postal, Name Tagging, Tokyo Tattoo 1970 and Remembering 9/11. Martha lives in Manhattan but frequently travels to street art festivals worldwide.

We saw firsthand how the actions of individuals can result in the greater good for all.
— Martha Cooper

In love with New York

I moved to New York in 1975 and fell in love with the city. It became not only my home but the inspiration for, and subject of, my photography. In 2018 for my 75th birthday, as a gift to myself and a tribute to my city, I decided to officially adopt a plain, wooden park bench that I could see from my window.

The "Writers’ bench"

For fun I called it my "writers' bench" because that's what graffiti writers call the trackside benches they sit on to wait for their painted pieces to pass by on trains. My specialty is photographing graffiti so this was an inside reference.

The sight has been life affirming.
— Martha Cooper

United, in the face of the pandemic

In 2020 New York was hit early and hard by Covid 19. The daily hospitalization rate and death toll was frightening. Independent New Yorkers are not known for following rules, but in the face of the pandemic, they banded together, followed government mask wearing and social distancing guidelines and historically flattened the curve.

Life affirming

During the many months of sheltering at home, I photographed a steady parade of people of all ages wearing masks walking, running, rolling by and sitting on my bench. The sight has been life affirming.

From individuals to the whole

I feel proud of my fellow New Yorkers for having the courage to live their lives but taking the precautions necessary to protect their neighbors. We saw firsthand how the actions of individuals can result in the greater good for all.

A new common humanity

I hope we can apply this new awareness of our common humanity to other serious problems facing the world.


Martha Cooper explains her piece of art for The New Humanity project.

  • Photographer: Martha Cooper
  • Post Production: Martha Cooper
  • Models: Fellow New Yorkers
Rotate the screen