Photo: Japanese girl with tattoo, Tokyo, 1970. © Martha Cooper.

Photographer Martha Cooper has always lived life on her own term. After graduating high school at 16 and Grinnell College at 19, the Baltimore-native decided to see the world so she joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Thailand, where she taught English for a spell. Then she hopped on a motorcycle and hightailed it from Bangkok to London, taking all along the way.

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She received a diploma in anthropology from Oxford, which speaks to her truest sensibilities: her passion for documenting the creative fruits of the human experience. In her hands, the camera is not merely a tool to create an image for aesthetic pleasure, it does something more; it bears witness to a time and place that is inherently ephemeral: street art and culture, which is inherently urban folk art.

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In 1970, Cooper found herself walking along a street in Tokyo when she spotted a man in a crowd. On his back was a Japanese tattoo, with figures drawn in the style of a woodblock print. Entranced, Cooper followed him until he disappeared, then began asking her friend about tattoos—a touchy subject. Tattooing had been outlawed in 1872, then legalized again in 1948, then quickly became a status symbol for the yakuza and the Japanese underworld. But Cooper is not one to give up when she has her sights set, and so she pursued her quest to completion: entrance to the studio of Horibun I, a tattoo master.

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It is here, in his studio that Cooper made the photographs that comprise the earliest work in the exhibition Martha Cooper, currently on view at Steven Kasher Gallery, New York, through June 3, 2017.

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Read the Full Story at Feature Shoot

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Photo: Christopher Sawyer breaking, Upper West Side, NYC, 1983. © Martha Cooper.

Photo: Woman with white pants on 180th Street platform, Bronx, NYC, 1980. © Martha Cooper.

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