‘Martha: A Picture Story’ celebrates iconic photojournalist Martha Cooper

Neha Attre 20 November 2020
Martha a picture story

Martha a picture story by Selina Miles looks at the life and work of American street art photographer, Martha Cooper. Photo: Supplied.

If you’re into film and keen to take in the real-life stories of some brilliant artistic women, then Kambri at ANU is the place you’ll want to be over the next six weekends in November and December. They’re presenting a free program of films at the Kambri Cultural Centre Cinema, celebrating influential female artists as part of their summer-long HERE I AM: Art by Great Women.

The film screenings launch tomorrow (21 November) with a director’s Q&A screening of Martha a picture story – an award-winning documentary about iconic American street art photographer, Martha Cooper, made by Australian filmmaker Selina Miles.

It has been an amazing journey for photojournalist Martha Cooper who is known for being the first to capture the images of graffiti in the late 1970s and the 1980s in New York. She became influential to the global street art movement and her work continues to live on through her 1984 book Subway Art.

Martha Cooper

Always behind the camera, Martha was not a big fan of being filmed – but was very gracious about it. Photo: Supplied.

Australian director Selina Miles met Martha Cooper for the first time six years ago at a street art festival in Tahiti where the former was the photographer while the latter was the videographer. At that time, little did she know that years later she would be working on a documentary Martha: A Picture Story which would capture Martha’s story and legacy.

“The film is a look at the life and work of Martha Cooper who is not only an incredibly important street and graffiti photographer but also an important documentary photographer. Her work spans over a period of five decades and she has covered a lot of different topics in that period,” she said.


READ ALSO: Here I am! says Kambri’s summer exhibition of contemporary women artists


Selina feels that while graffiti is a very specific topic to be interested in, there is a lot of universal human truth in Martha’s story, and that’s what people have connected with the most.

“We met on common grounds but I had no idea about other amazing projects she has been a part of. Through the film Martha: A Picture Story, people will be able to discover her love for creativity and art on the street and in public space, and the way in which people can express themselves often without access to education or the right tools,” Selina said.

“When you look at her work as a whole, it’s really inspiring. It’s a story about perseverance. She had obstacles to overcome in her life including being a woman at the time she was starting as a photographer.”

Selina feels that even if people haven’t seen Martha’s work or heard about her, they will discover something about her in the film that will captivate them.

Selina shared her experience of filming and how Martha Cooper reacted after the film was released last year.

“She was happy after watching the first screening of the film. Even though she is not a big fan of being filmed and is used to being behind the camera, she was very gracious about it,” Selina added.

She wants people to come along to the screening if they are interested in watching a documentary that is joyful and fun.

“You don’t need to understand graffiti to understand and appreciate Martha’s story. It is a universal story. I hope people can come along and learn more about her,” she added.

Selina Miles

Selina Miles, director of Martha a picture story. Photo: Supplied.

Director Selina Miles will be participating in the audience Q&A session on the opening night of her documentary Martha: A Picture Story on 21 November at the Kambri Cinema, moderated by the always-entertaining Sancho from Sancho’s Dirty Laundry.

Kambri at ANU is providing free film screenings for HERE I AM: Art by Great Women festival with screenings running for six weeks from 21 November to 18 December. Additional screenings include acclaimed documentaries and features: Henry and June (27 November), Her Sound, Her Story (3 December), Finding Vivian Maier (10 December), Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (11 December) and Camille Claudel (18 December).


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