Further investigating personal collections, we talk to American photojournalist Martha Cooper. Cooper, capturing pictures since the age of three, is now one of New York’s prominent street art photographers. Through her years photographing in bombed out neighborhoods of Brooklyn and New York, Cooper is celebrated for the soft eye she has for her subjects, always seeking out a serendipity of the street despite it’s dangers.
With the same whimsy she brings to her subjects of the street, it flourishes in her collection of toy cameras and photographica. An artist of organization, she explains the presence collections have in both her photography and the playful possessions she has acquired as a collector.
Can you tell us about your first toy camera? What made you decide to begin building out a collection?
The first camera was a wooden toy from the 1950's that belonged to my brother. It's the most creative of all the toy cameras in my collection. The "film" is a slate and there's place to store chalk. The child was supposed to use the chalk to draw a picture. I decided to try to collect other examples around 1998 when I joined eBay.
You are a photographer by profession. Do these toy cameras ever play into the work we've seen from you?
Not specifically. I tend to keep my collecting interests apart from my photography ones. I do however enjoy seeing many different examples of the same thing. I often arrange or file my photos by subject matter into collections such as signs, hair styles, stickers etc.
The photographs you have captured of street art are often whimsical, depicting the playful elements of the craft. Do you feel a connection between those relics and your collection?
My photographica collection is primarily about women and photography. I began it in the late 70's when I was one of the few female newspaper photographers. The toy cameras are sort of a sideline that grew out of the main collection which is composed of images of women with cameras. The relationship that I'm aware of between this collection and my own photography is that I'm a woman, and I tend to make collections of the photos I shoot — walls, trains, kids playing, casitas etc — have many collections and sub-collections of my own photos.
What is the weirdest object that has made its way into your collection?
The weirdest things in my collection are things I've bought myself. I like objects in the shape of cameras that are made for something entirely different for example a liquor flask, an eraser,a planter, a clock, a teapot, a cigarette lighter or a flashlight.
You have an extensive collection ranging from all sorts of toy cameras and figurines to antique images of women with cameras. What is the common thread? What makes you see something and think, that belongs?
These days most of my shopping is done online. It has become difficult to find things that I don't already have. My favorites are pre-1930 items with an interesting graphic image of a woman with a camera. It doesn't matter whether the item is actually related to photography. For example, I recently acquired a vintage Chinese silk bale label with a lovely image of a woman and camera. I had never heard of silk bale labels before, but this was a must have.