Written by Clarence Sponagle

Martha; A Picture Story is a documentary reminding us that one passion can lead to others, one person’s drive can be addictive and that some of the best storytelling is through art.


Martha Cooper is a photographer whose pictures of hip-hop graffiti helped share the art-form all over the world. What started off as a conventional hobby turned into a revolutionary career that is still going today, at her age of 75. In the 1970s Martha discovered graffiti art in the Bronx and began taking photos, turning her collection into a book entitled Subway Art. Though the book sold few copies in the 1970s, some were shoplifted and photocopied. Pirated copies of the book were circulated internationally and turned the art-form into a worldwide phenomena.

Cooper has the energy and edge that makes you want to throw all caution to the wind, run down the streets of New York City, run through alleyways and take in all walks of life! In the ’70s and ’80s, Martha Cooper broke all the rules and encased herself in what was seen as, then, a dangerous venture.

I had a strong connection with Martha’s journey, passion, and commitment to her art. The way she connected with people, the ease and care she has for her subjects made all of them feel safe and taken care of. Film director Selina Miles posses so many of the same characteristics, you can see why these two women had to meet in this lifetime. I’m so very thankful they did, and that Selina was able to articulate Martha the way she did.

The moment Selina Miles’s computer camera turned on, I could see headphones over her ears and a wall of post-it’s, notes and pictures. The wall of a true filmmaker and artist. She was ready for our overseas Skype interview with a smile and a true sense of self and kindness.

“I got into being a documentary filmmaker because I wanted to tell stories that had a purpose, meaning, and longevity”, Selina answers when asked what made her want to direct documentaries. “I went where the wind took me.”

Martha; A Picture Story, was intended to be 10 minutes in a 3 part series. Selina landed in New York City and quickly knew this wasn’t going to be the case. “This was the backstory to Martha’s career. Nobody knew she had this entire career as a graffiti artist.”

Throughout Martha; A Picture Story, you see heart, drive, and compassion. The care and respect Selina presented is so clear and so well thought out. “I had a very strong sense that I wanted to protect Martha as a friend and mentor. I had to also separate her as a friend and look at her as a documentarian.”

Sitting in the theatre, I was so thrilled to hear reactions from a younger generation taking in this film. Listening to the stories, words and respecting that it takes time to build a career. Selina expressed the importance she hopes a younger generation takes away from her film, for them to know that success doesn’t happen overnight and that it’s a process to get to where you want to go. When you get there, the pay off is full of joy, as much joy she hopes that Martha brings the audience.

A scene that resonated with me was when Martha chased for her art, her shot and her people. Watching her run through the streets, over railroad tracks and balance on buildings was so empowering for me to witness. Martha reminded me that when you want something, go out and get it! Get up and run! Laugh as loud as you can and feel it all!

“My hope is first, that people help each other to see the world the way Martha does. By approaching things with empathy and understanding,” Miles says. “It is never too late, and you’re never too old for success in your life.”

InFocus Film School is a proud sponsor of Martha: A Picture Story, currently screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival. For tickets and info click here.