Martha Cooper, a.k.a. Kodakgirl, is a documentary photographer who began shooting in kindergarten and has an extensive collection of images of women and cameras. Many are posted on her Web site. Martha began collecting images of men, women, children, and animals with cameras in 1977 after coming across an old postcard of a dog with a camera in an antique shop. "I quickly found out about postcard and ephemera shows and began attending them whenever I could," she says. "At the time, I was a staff photographer for the New York Post..." Martha talks more about her love of images and related ephemera in the following interview.
ephemera: Tell me about how you've built your image collection, and the challenges you face in doing so.
Cooper: I'm a freelance photographer with an uncertain income, so I just can't afford to buy at the high end of the market. This means that I concentrate on snapshots, for example, rather than carte de visites. I prefer to have the fun of finding and buying lots of things than saving my money for the one great find. I'm aware that in the end I might have a more "valuble" collection if I held off on the little stuff but it would be less enjoyable for me personally.
Pre-eBay, the biggest challenge was to find interesting images. Now, there are so many, the challenge is to decide which ones to bid on. Now I limit my collection to women and cameras--something that was possible only post-eBay.
ephemera: What about storage issues?
Cooper: Storage is also a challenge. I live in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. For awhile I collected 3 dimensional items such as toy cameras and salt and pepper shakers with cameras and that kind of thing. I quickly ran out of space. Now I concentrate on postcards and snapshots which don't take up much room. I try to store them carefully in archival sleeves and boxes but my apartment isn't temperature controlled and that could be a problem in the long run. I've noticed some of my magazine ads have become brittle.
ephemera: What are some of your favorite images or ephemera related to Kodak?
Cooper: I have lots of favorites. Maybe my favorite snap is the one of six women in a row holding cameras with their names handwritten underneath. It's the first photo in the snapshot section of my www.kodakgirl.com site. I'm also very fond of the beautiful graphic art of woman and camera on the Hawk-Eye catalog on the home page of Kodakgirl.
ephemera: How do you find images or decide which images to include in your collection?
Cooper: My only criterion for success is having fun. It always surprises me when people email me and want to know how much something is "worth". I am only interested in how much something is worth to me. I don't have any plans to sell my collection. If possible I would like to keep it together and donate it to a museum. I think there are two kinds of collections--known items and unknown items. In the first category are things like stamps, coins, baseball cards and beanie babies. These are all things which have been extensively documented and valued so the collector knows exactly what to look for. In addition to rarity, price is often determined by the condition of the object since there are few one-of-a-kind items. My collection is almost entirely of unknown items, many one-of-a-kind. For me that's where the excitement of discovery lies. I am always looking for unusual images of women and cameras that I didn't know existed. I enjoy many aspects of collecting--searching for things (now mostly on eBay), receiving purchases by mail, arranging them in categories, meeting other collectors on line and in person, and learning how to make a website. For me this constitutes a "successful" collection.
ephemera: For someone who want to build a similar collection, what resources do you recommend?
Cooper: I generally buy supplies from dealers at postcard shows. I don't subscribe to any collector publications but I do quite a bit of rooting around on the internet to find out about things.
ephemera: I'm a big fan of this genre of ephemera. It's something that I think a lot of people connect with. Thanks for sharing your expertise.