Books in the MCL: Martha Cooper, Ninja K & 1UP Crew. One Week with 1UP  

One Week with 1UP. Martha Cooper, Ninja K & 1UP Crew, 2018

One Week with 1UP” is an adrenaline-fueled ride through Berlin‘s graffiti scene that captures the spirit of rebellion that has been present in this form of art since its inception. The book results from a serendipitous meeting between a veteran photojournalist and ethnographer Martha Cooper and the notorious Berlin-based graffiti crew 1UP. Along with photographer Ninja K, Cooper takes readers on a clandestine path through the streets of Berlin, where the 1UP crew uses various techniques and platforms to paint their way to fame.

This modern pairing captures the unruly spirit of graffiti over the past 50 years, confidently bringing it into the 2010s. The photographer, who has been documenting the scene since the 1970s, follows 1UP, one of the most prominent graffiti crews in Berlin, to capture their process, technique, and final product. Cooper’s experience with the rise of graffiti in New York during the ’70s and ’80s makes her the ideal person to document its current state: She plays the role of a graffiti seer from the past, recognizing the same passion in today’s youth using new technology and techniques to get up.

Running across rooftops, rappelling down walls, ducking through fences, spilling down steps – the 1UP crew plans each mission extensively and goes to great lengths to execute them. The book provides a rare look behind the scenes of Berlin graffiti in the 21st century, a city that has embraced the bohemian and rebellious types who have transformed large parts of its cityscape, making it a de facto capital of subculture, especially among the young.

Cooper’s experience as a photojournalist and documentarian gives a view through the lens that is frank and without filter. It keeps the book grounded, not wandering into heroism but capturing the energy and excitement of the 1UP crew’s forbidden actions. Even without words, it tells a story through images of dedication, determination, persistence, and bravado.

“Illegal graffiti is still kind of a competition with writers on one side and cops on the other. Writers that lose can go to jail,” write Cooper and Ninja K in the afterword. “Success is measured by getting pieces up on walls or trains. To us, some actions seemed more about the thrills than about painting a dope piece- the higher the danger, the higher the score, with 1UP usually ahead.”

The book perhaps unintentionally prompts significant inquiries about graffiti’s impact on art, vandalism, branding, and public and personal space. Along with the more evident and impressive visual results, the shock of some of these excursions highlights the role of graffiti in modern society and its relationship with the city and private/state property. Photos are accompanied by a journal of experiences, opinions, and witty observations. This adventure of cat and mouse with authority is sincere, satirical, and even sadistic in its humor. At times the psychological planning and theorizing reach military realms, and then you remember we’re just talking about painting.

“Let’s go! 10 writers, 3 checkers, 2 videographers, and 2 photographers race down the stairs towards the train as stunned passengers look on.”

Some may see the 1UP crew’s unconventional artmaking to cross physical safety and social boundaries, and the book provides a unique glimpse into their mindset; here seen operating under a principle of solidarity, where every member contributes to ensuring the mission’s success and everyone’s safety. “One United Power stands for unity,” they say in the foreword, “without individual names and, above all, without egotism.” This philosophy reflects the crew’s beliefs in collaboration and teamwork, which are uncommon in an art form characterized by individual expression.

“Hanging with the crew gave us an in-depth look at the tools, techniques, motivations, and personalities of today’s graffiti writers,” say the photographers. “We felt privileged to be allowed to watch them meticulously prepare before leaving for some of their complicated actions. We often felt we were in a spy movie with burner phones, masks, encrypted messages, and a hidden web of people working together to ensure everyone’s safety.”

One Week with 1UP” is a must-read for anyone interested in the present state of graffiti and street art. It provides an extraordinary look into the world of one particularly infamous graffiti crew and documents their actions in stunning detail. It’s a book that may leave readers with a newfound appreciation for the art of graffiti and a deeper understanding of the culture that surrounds it.

Text: Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo Fotos Sebastian Kläbsch