Film Reviews

Film Review: Martha: A Picture Story (2019)

Director: Selina Miles

Shelley Te Haara

Martha Cooper is a photographer and you may not know who she is, but you should. I was interested in seeing this film because it’s a documentary about a photographer and particularly a female photographer. But I also loved that she documented a lot of history before everyone had a camera. The days of film cameras and little money.

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Martha documented life but she is very well known for her documentation of street art. Street art has always been fascinating to me because it is so bold and can add so much more to a flat space. It is also an art form that appears and disappears. Martha clearly realized she needed to document this for that particular reason but she also captured it being created which included her being involved in illegal activity as well as getting to know the artists themselves. Relationships were important for Martha in documenting people over the years. It is about the people for her.

In pursuit of her passion, Martha tried to get paid photography work and while she did get the odd work, it wasn’t easy as a lot of the publications she worked for weren’t interested in the same things she was. Also, she was a woman and I particularly love that Martha touched on this as I feel it is very relative to today. Though photography was originally marketed by camera companies as a women's activity it was more of a man's job and she fought that. She still fights it. And I think it is interesting to know that a lot of women still fight for their place as well. The crowd for the screening I attended was actually mainly women too.

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Martha kept up with times and now shoots on a Nikon. She has become somewhat of a celebrity and though she likes that she inspires others she doesn’t necessarily like the fame of it. This documentary shows how she may have not done well at the time but little did she know, over the years, her images would help a lot of people. Her ‘Street Art’ book is considered a bible to a lot of street artists. Martha also touches on how photography was somewhat of a rare thing to do and now it’s not the same as everyone does it.

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I love that her images were very much unedited and that doesn’t happen a lot these days. She shows a lot of her archives and I can’t imagine what is in there. It would be amazing to go through I’m sure. But in saying that people have started diving back into film which is quite nice.

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Martha Cooper by Dan Brinzac

As a photographer and artist myself I found this documentary inspiring and somewhat motivational. I love that Martha is still shooting and I hope this helps a lot of people chase their passion whether it’s art, photography or another creative industry.

Written By: Shelley Te Haara