“In the late seventies, I was working on a personal photo project documenting kids on the Lower East Side playing with toys they made from trash,” Cooper told me. “One boy showed me sketches in his notebook, and explained that he was practicing his nickname to paint on a wall. When I expressed interest, he offered to introduce me to a ‘king.’ The king turned out to be Dondi, and I became obsessed with graffiti. From Dondi and his crew, I heard many stories about the exploits of subway writers. Finally, in 1980, I accompanied them on a mission to the New Lots yards, in Brooklyn. In this photo, Dondi is completing a top-to-bottom car he titled ‘Children of the Grave Part 3,’ because there had been two previous versions. This shot was taken at sunrise, following a night of spray painting. Because the subway cars were parked in parallel rows, the writers could brace themselves between them and reach the top. This was probably the most exciting night of my life, and this is my all-time favorite photo.”
See many more wonderful pictures, and read many more stories in this excellent article by Jessie Wender, online at the New Yorker magazine blog, Photobooth.
See more of photographer Martha Cooper’s photography of graffiti and street art at the 12ozProphet website.