Mary Ellen Mark

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Mary Ellen Mark
Mary-ellen-mark-2 (cropped).jpg
Mark in 2010
Born(1940-03-20)March 20, 1940
Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, US
DiedMay 25, 2015(2015-05-25) (aged 75)
Nationality American
Known for Photography
Spouse(s) Martin Bell

Mary Ellen Mark (March 20, 1940 – May 25, 2015) was an American photographer known for her photojournalism, documentary photography, portraiture, and advertising photography. She photographed people who were "away from mainstream society and toward its more interesting, often troubled fringes". [1]


Mark had 18 collections of her work published, most notably Streetwise and Ward 81. [2] Her work was exhibited at galleries and museums worldwide and widely published in Life , Rolling Stone , The New Yorker , New York Times , and Vanity Fair . She was a member of Magnum Photos between 1977 and 1981. She received numerous accolades, including three Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards, three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the 2014 Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award from the George Eastman House [2] and the Outstanding Contribution Photography Award from the World Photography Organisation.

Life and work

Mark was born and raised in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. [3] [4] and began photographing with a Box Brownie camera [5] at age nine. She attended Cheltenham High School, [4] where she was head cheerleader and exhibited a knack for painting and drawing. [3] She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and art history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1962. [5] After graduating, she worked briefly in the Philadelphia city planning department, [5] then returned for a master's degree in photojournalism at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, which she received in 1964. [3] The following year, Mark received a Fulbright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey for a year, [3] from which she produced her first book, Passport (1974). While there, she traveled to photograph England, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Spain. [1]

In 1966 [4] or 1967, [1] she moved to New York City, where over the next several years she photographed demonstrations in opposition to the Vietnam War, the women's liberation movement, transvestite culture, and Times Square, developing a sensibility, according to one writer, "away from mainstream society and toward its more interesting, often troubled fringes". [1] Her photography addressed social issues such as homelessness, loneliness, drug addiction, and prostitution. Children are a reoccurring subject throughout much of Mark's work. [6] She described her approach to her subjects: "I’ve always felt that children and teenagers are not "children," they’re small people. I look at them as little people and I either like them or I don’t like them. I also have an obsession with mental illness. And strange people who are outside the borders of society." Mark also said "I’d rather pull up things from another culture that are universal, that we can all relate to...There are prostitutes all over the world. I try to show their way of life." [7] and that "I feel an affinity for people who haven't had the best breaks in society. What I want to do more than anything is acknowledge their existence". [8] Mark was well known for establishing strong relationships with her subjects. [3] For Ward 81 (1979), she lived for six weeks with the patients in the women’s security ward of Oregon State Hospital, and for Falkland Road (1981), she spent three months befriending the prostitutes who worked on a single long street in Bombay. [3] Her project "Streets of the Lost" with writer Cheryl McCall, for Life, [9] produced her book Streetwise (1988) and was developed into the documentary film Streetwise , [2] [7] directed by her husband Martin Bell and with a soundtrack by Tom Waits.

Mark was also a unit photographer on movie sets, shooting production stills of more than 100 movies, including Arthur Penn's Alice's Restaurant (1969), Mike Nichols' Catch-22 (1970) and Carnal Knowledge (1971), Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), and Baz Luhrmann's Australia (2008). [3] [10] For Look magazine, she photographed Federico Fellini shooting Satyricon (1969). [3] [1]

Mark worked with film, [5] [11] using a wide range of cameras in various formats, from 35 mm, 120/220, 4×5-inch view camera, and a 20×24 Polaroid Land Camera, [3] primarily in black and white [5] using Kodak Tri-X film. [12]

She published 18 books of photographs and contributed to publications that include Life, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, New York Times, and Vanity Fair;. [3] Mark was transparent with the subjects of her photography about her intent to use what she saw in the world for her art, about which she has said "I just think it's important to be direct and honest with people about why you're photographing them and what you're doing. After all, you are taking some of their soul."[ citation needed ]

Mark joined Magnum Photos in 1977 and left in 1981, [2] [13] joining Archive Pictures and then in 1988 opened her own agency. [5] She served as a guest juror for photography call for entries at The Center for Fine Art Photography [14] and taught workshops at the International Center of Photography in New York, in Mexico [15] and at the Center for Photography at Woodstock.

She was the cowriter, associate producer and still photographer for the feature film American Heart (1992), starring Jeff Bridges and Edward Furlong, and directed by Martin Bell. [2] It depicts a gruff ex-convict who struggles to get his life back on track. [5]

Mark signing a monograph in 2011 Mary Ellen Mark (5820311951).jpg
Mark signing a monograph in 2011

Mark died on May 25, 2015 in Manhattan, aged 75, of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood illness caused by bone marrow failure. [2] [16] [17] [18]


Recognition and awards

Grants and fellowships

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  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Laurent, Olivier (May 26, 2015). "In Memoriam: Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015)". Time . Retrieved May 26, 2015.
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  4. 1 2 3 Naef, Weston Mary Ellen Mark: Exposure (Phaidon Press, 2006), Introduction. ISBN   978-0-7148-4626-2; ISBN   978-0-7148-4626-2
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  8. Uncited but quoted in Long, "Brilliant Careers", Salon
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  10. Shattuck, Kathryn. "Another Camera on the Set", The New York Times , December 25, 2008, plus page 1 of 7 of online slide show
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  12. Lovece, Frank. "The Real Life of Mary Ellen Mark" Take Great Pictures. October 1, 2011.
  13. Chronology, Magnum Photos (London: Thames & Hudson, 2008; ISBN   978-0-500-41094-3), not paginated.
  14. Archived July 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
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