Photographer Mary Ellen Mark (b. 1940 – d. 2015) captured individuals with striking emotional imagery. Deeply affecting viewers of her work, she showcased celebrities, Seattle street kids, Bombay prostitutes, mental ward patients, East Indian circus performers, U.S. prom goers, a Los Angeles homeless family, and much more. Further exploring a desire for impactful photographs and the people behind them, she and filmmaker husband Martin Bell took to the big screen with academy award nominated STREETWISE, entrusted (as in all niches she explored) into the world of Seattle street kids. Following the film’s stand out subject ‘Tiny’ into adulthood (a then 16-year-old prostitute battling addiction and a troubled home life), Mary Ellen and Martin later successfully crowdfunded for a film that followed grown-up Tiny into motherhood, decades after Tiny’s first introduction to the public.
(Interview with Everybody Street)
“An iconic image: it’s intriguing, it’s mysterious. It makes you wonder. You think about it. It’s beautiful yet strange. It’s an image that will last. It’s an image that talks to people and that says something across the board to people no matter what nationality, no matter what age…it says something. Every great photographer has a few of them in them and it’s something that we all strive to do. My photographs are emotional and I want them to be emotional. I want them to touch people and make them feel.”
Mary Ellen Mark
(Interview with Leica Camera)
Mary Ellen published books of her work, photo-essays and portraits in LIFE, New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and the list goes on.
“I just to try to go in completely open minded and see who these people are”
Mary Ellen Mark
Setting precedence with one of her first photography jobs on the set of (Arthur Penn’s) ALICE’S RESTAURANT, film set and celebrity photographs supported her professionally. Mary Ellen felt equally (if not more) drawn to images of subcultures and the marginalized, those living an off-screen, non-celebrity existence, foreign and intriguing to its comfortable, (yet sometimes bored) suburban admirers.
(Interview with Texas Monthly Talks)
For decades, Mary Ellen’s work was sought after by print publications. As online magazines replaced print, relying on more commercial looks, with camera phones and social media posts dominating photojournalism, she saw her exquisite images cast aside for digital, branded content.
“[As a photographer] expect it to be tough these days because you don’t have the advantages I had when I started in that magazines really need you. Today magazines prefer to use more commercial people. They want more slick imagery. But I think if you love it and you really want to do it, you must do it. Because you’ll never forgive yourself for not doing something you really cared about or believe in if you don’t do it now.”
Mary Ellen Mark
(Interview with Profoto)
“Doing documentary projects is almost like doing a movie where you are casting your subjects….you do have to push your limits if you want to get a certain intimacy in your pictures….I always find it is better to let the subject come up with the idea of what the picture would be. I think my work has changed. Perhaps the fact that I am technically a bit better. Maybe I know more because I’ve looked at more photographs and I’ve taken more photographs but I think my concerns are pretty much the same. To be truthful and to take powerful pictures and to try and look for those iconic moments.”
Mary Ellen Mark
Mary Ellen’s legacy prevails and remains unique despite an image heavy, photoshopped media culture. From Mary Ellen’s Fullbright photos exploring Turkey as she barely entered adulthood, to later work of U.S. teenage prom participants attending working-to-upper-class high schools, Mary Ellen’s ability to capture a subject’s trusted essence is irreplaceable. Find out more about Mary Ellen’s work at MaryEllenMark.com.
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