It almost goes without saying that Martha Cooper has been one of the most important documentarians of graffiti culture for the last few decades. Her urban and hip hop culture photography is iconic. More recently, Martha Cooper has expanded her graffiti documentation to the photography and collection of stickers. Her two latest books, Going Postal and Name Tagging, spotlight sticker art made with postal labels and Hello My Name Is stickers.
On Saturday from 1-3pm, Martha will join sticker fanatic and author of one of my favorite books, DB Burkeman, for a book signing at a sticker exhibition curated by DB. The show, STUCK-UP: A Selected History of Alternative & Pop Culture Told Through Stickers, is at Chicago’s Maxwell Colette Gallery and features stickers from a top-notch roster of artists.
I would gladly hop on the next plane and see this exhibit in person, but that was not an option so instead I asked Martha Cooper a few questions.
Caroline: In your book Name Tagging, you explain how you began appreciating stickers after you bought your first digital camera. What was it about the digital medium that initiated this interest in stickers?
Martha Cooper: Pre-digital, I rarely took my heavy, bulky Nikon out unless I was headed for something specific to shoot. It cost about 50 cents for film and processing every time I clicked the shutter. So although I had noticed stickers for years, I hadn’t looked at them closely and hadn’t bothered to shoot many.
My first digital camera was a little Olympus that I could easily carry around with me all the time. It had a very good close-up lens and performed well under low light. Once I had the camera, it didn’t cost any more to keep shooting so I was free to take as many photos as I wanted. Transitioning from analog to digital was a challenge. Shooting stickers was an unstressful way to practice new technology with interesting subject matter.
C: What led to you removing and collecting stickers off the street, rather than just photographing them?
MC: I’ve always been a collector. I like to look at different examples of things. At first after shooting a nice sticker, I printed it and saved it in an album. That began to feel unsatisfactory–I wanted the original. I only shoot and collect hand drawn stickers and this is pretty much the only form of graffiti and street art that can actually be removed from the street. Of course writers have criticized me for this and I know this is a dubious defense, but someday I hope to have a museum sticker exhibit.