Friday 02.10.2020 – 04.10.2020

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URBAN NATION, Bülowstraße 7, 10783 Berlin

With “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” the URBAN NATION Museum presents the world’s most extensive retrospective of Martha Cooper’s photographic work. Using photographs and personal objects, the exhibition traces Cooper’s life, from her first camera in 1946 to her current reputation as a photographer.

In the 1970s, Martha Cooper began documenting the graffiti and hip-hop movement, which at the time was not even known by that name. The young woman, who then was the first female photographer to work for the New York Post within the urban maze of New York City, intuitively sensed: There is something happening here that is worth capturing. Today, we look back on a body of work spanning six decades, which impressively succeeds in preserving the zeitgeist of a cultural movement through photography and thus captures the way an entire generation thought and felt.

“I’m always looking to take a picture that will be of interest in the future—a photograph that will become representative of its time.” – Martha Cooper



The URBAN NATION Museum retrospective is the museum’s first photo and documentary exhibition. With “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures”, the museum’s program is given a new focus under director Jan Sauerwald. Thanks to the expertise of the curators Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo (Brooklyn Street Art), and thanks to the close collaboration with the artist herself, an extraordinary exhibition has been created.

Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures

Harlem, NYC 1982. © Martha Cooper

In 1984, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant published the groundbreaking book “Subway Art”, which is now considered the “bible of graffiti” and helped the then novel art movement of Urban Art to make its breakthrough. The photographs contained in the book document the hidden subculture of young graffiti artists and their illegal artworks on thousands of trains in New York City. From today’s perspective, the publication of the illustrated book represents a milestone in contemporary photography history in terms of documenting graffiti and street art. In the exhibition, the iconic photographs from “Subway Art” are shown. The original and extensive sample book is also on display.



In addition to her documentary work, Martha Cooper cultivated numerous friendships with graffiti artists from all over the world. Among them were, for example, Keith Haring or Jean-Michel Basquiat, both of whom had their roots in street art, and who in the course of their careers made an important contribution to the postmodern art discourse. Personalized drawings and photographs bear witness to these connections and can be discovered in the exhibition. Visitors will get exclusive insights into the photographer’s sketchbooks, diaries and scrapbooks as well as into her archives. Unique objects, some of them very personal and from Martha Cooper’s private collection, will help to contextualize her mostly analogous photographs and their cultural-historical relevance in greater depth.

Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures

Chris Stain with mural painted from Cooper photo, Coney Art Walls, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NYC 2017. © Martha Cooper

Martha Cooper’s photographs, in their “snapshot aesthetic” and through their choice of unpretentious motifs and pictorial objects, align themselves with other documentarists such as Robert Frank or Manuel Rivera-Ortiz. Her poetic-documentary images capture the essence of the matter without intervening or pretending:

“I prefer ‘documentary photographer’ because I try to create a literal document. I don’t exaggerate or distort camera angles or lighting.” – Martha Cooper



Another focus of the exhibition is Martha Cooper’s extensive travels. The resulting photographs from Senegal, Suriname or the Philippines were partly commissioned by major geography and travel magazines such as GEO Magazine. However, the term “commissioned work” would not do justice to the majority of the images taken during these trips. Rather, Martha Cooper’s urge to research, record, and preserve is once again evident here. The group of works resulting from these journeys spans a period from the 1980s to the present. The images provide a respectful insight into the everyday life of the people portrayed, but also refer to personal experiences and memories that have shaped the photographer’s life.

Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures

Women carrying clay pots, Madras, India 1965. © Martha Cooper

Martha Cooper’s photography, her curiosity and joy of adventure presents us with an oeuvre full of facets and character. Many of her photographs have served and continue to serve numerous artists from all over the world as the basis for individual examination and interpretation in the context of their own artistic work. The museum will show 35 of these “remixes” in the exhibition for the first time.


The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog with essays by: Carlo McCormick, Steve P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo, Sean Corcoran, Susan Welchman, Akim Walta, Nika Kramer and Jan Sauerwald.


Due to the Corona regulations and the uncertainty of what further measures will have to be taken in the future to guarantee the health of our visitors and that of our employees, we have to be prepared for a “soft-opening” during the opening weekend of October 02 – 04, 2020.

A livestream of the first evening of the opening weekend with interviews and documentary material will be available from 8 pm on


Opening weekend


Friday, October 2nd, 2020: 8 – 11 pm

Extended opening hours:

Saturday, October 3, 2020: 10 am – 10 pm

Sunday, October 4, 2020: 10 am – 8 pm

URBAN NATION Museum, Bülowstrasse 7, Berlin-Schöneberg


Please note that the last admission is 30 minutes before closing time. Due to the ongoing situation, a visit to the museum will be limited for the time being. A maximum of 60 visitors may currently be in the museum at any one time.

Media partner:

tipBerlin Logo

The exhibition is part of EMOP Berlin – European Month of Photography:


The art education project “Spiel Straße” with a 5th grade of the Otto-Wels-Grundschule Kreuzberg is supported by the Projektfonds Kulturelle Bildung Berlin of the district Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg