"This image is adapted from a photo by Martha Cooper taken in the late 70's and appearing in her 2006 book 'Street Play.' Martha’s photography reminded me of growing up in Baltimore during the same period.
I immediately enlarged the image to create a stencil."
- Chris Stain
From 1977 to 1980 Martha Cooper was a staff photographer at the New York Post. Working out of her car, she drove around the city's five boroughs from assignment to assignment, always on the lookout for interesting feature shots. Cooper quickly found that the city's poorer neighborhoods had the richest street life and her favorite location became Manhattan's Alphabet City--north of Houston Street between Avenues A and D--as she would habitually wind through Manhattan's Lower East Side on her way back to the Post at the end of the day. In 'Street Play,' Cooper takes us through the Alphabet City of the late 70s, when this area was undergoing extensive urban renewal--a process that is still continuing today. At the time, the neighborhood had more than its share of drug dealers and petty criminals, and the landscape often seemed ugly and forbidding. But to the children who grew up there, the abandoned buildings and rubble-strewn lots made perfect playgrounds, providing raw materials and open space for improvised play. A crumbling tenement housed a secret clubhouse, rooftops became private aviaries, and a pile of trash might be a source for treasure. 'Street Play' shows the creative and indomitable spirit of city kids determined to make the best of their inhospitable environment. Today the neighborhood is transformed, although the days of go-carts and skelly caps can still be found down certain streets between new developments and parks. Martha Cooper's work attests to a transitional, post-tenement and preartist period on the Lower East Side when this street culture was not pushed to the fringes of this already out-of-the-way neighborhood, but held turf in Alphabet City.
Chris Stain was raised in the working class neighborhood of Highlandtown in Baltimore, MD. Having learned printmaking methods at a young age, he eventually shifted his technique toward stenciling, adapting images from photographs, and began exhibiting his work in 2000. Stain seeks to convey an authentic contemporary document that illustrates the triumph of the human spirit as experienced by those in underrepresented urban and rural environments. He lives in Queens, New York.