The great photographer, Mary Ellen Mark has passed away at the age of 75. She is known for her photojournalistic portraiture and had 16 collections of her work published and has been exhibited at galleries and museums around the world.
Born in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mark began shooting with a Box Brownie camera at the age of nine. She received a BFA in painting and art history and a Masters Degree in photojournalism from the Annenberg School for Communication in 1964. Mark received a Fulbright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey for a year. While there, she also traveled to England, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Spain. In 1967, she moved to New York City, where over the next several years she photographed Vietnam War demonstrations, 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”.
As Mark explained in 1987,
“I’m just interested in people on the edges. 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”.
Mark also became a unit photographer on movie sets, shooting production stills for films including Arthur Penn’s Alice’s Restaurant (1969), Mike Nichols‘ Catch-22 (1970), Carnal Knowledge (1971) and Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now (1979) among her earliest. For Look magazine, she shot Federico Fellini making Satyricon (1969) and has since been on the sets of more than 100 movies, up through through Baz Luhrmann‘s Australia (2008).
Her photography addressed such social issues as homelessness, loneliness, drug addiction, and prostitution. She works primarily in black and white and she has 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.
I’d rather pull up things from another culture that are universal, that we can all relate to…”
She left a remarkable body of work for us to ponder and appreciate for eons.