“I’m just interested in people on the edges. I feel an affinity for people who haven’t had the best breaks in society”
Mary Ellen Mark born on 20th of March 1940 is an American photographer who worked for the acknowledgement of existence of people with broken lives. Through her photojournalism and portraiture, she has gained worldwide visibility.
Mary grew up in Pennsylvania and started photography at the age of nine using a Box Brownie camera. She went to Cheltenham High School, where she was a head cheerleader and showed great interest in drawing and painting. In 1962, after completing Bachelors in painting and art history from University of Pennsylvania, she enrolled in a Master Degree in photojournalism at Annenberg School for Communication which she completed in 1964. The next year she received a Fullbright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey for a year. She also travelled Spain, Germany, England, Italy and Greece while on scholarship.
Her work focuses on world’s diverse cultures and humanism. Her photo-essays and portraits have been published in LIFE, New York Time Magazine, The New Yorker, Rolling Stones and Vanity Fair.
From Turkey Mary Ellen Mark moved to New York in 1967 and worked on Vietnam War Demonstrations and women’s liberation movement.
She worked as a unit photographer on the sets of Hollywood films. She photographed stills for Arthur Penn’s “Alice’s Restaurant” (1969), Mike Nichols’ “Catch-22” (1970), “Carnal Knowledge” (1971) and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” (1979). She then got an assignment from Look Magazine to shoot Federico Fellini filming “Satyricon” in Rome.
Filming “Taking Off” was a turning point in her movie-still work when she photographed for “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at Oregon State Mental Hospital, Ward 81.
Later, she published a book on the women of Ward 81 in 1979. It was the first of her projects to portray, in depth; people whom she feels “haven’t had the best breaks in society” The black and white shoots are stark and depressing.
In 1978, Mark visited India and photographed “Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay” published in 1981. The “decorative” colored shoots are vibrant and loud filled with peeling paints and woven clothing of women.
In 1980, Mark got a chance to photograph Mother Teresa and the poor at the Mission of Charity for Life Magazine. Her pictures appeared in July 1980, as “Teresa of the Slums: A Saintly Nun Embraces India’s Poor.”
In 1983, “Streets of the Lost: Runaway Kids Eke out a Mean Life in Seattle” was published by Life Magazine, showing dozen of young prostitutes and hustlers. Mary Ellen Mark befriended these youngsters and produced an award-nominee, and emotional still series on kids in 1988 named as “StreetWise”. The strongest images are of a 14-year-old girl, Erin or “Tiny”. Her stills are soulful, an unsmiling kid lost in the depths of fear, pain and discomfort.
In 1987, Mark discovered the homeless Damms family from Los Angeles. The black and white shoots are of Dean and Linda living in their car with two children. In 1992, she again photographed Damms family who were now living on an abandoned pig ranch, illegally. These shoots are emotional and intense about a junk family on a verge to fall apart.
She shot stills on 18 travelling circuses of India, known as “Indian Circus”. The images of acrobats, clowns, trained and clothes bears and child contortionists are full of life and expression of humor and compassion.
Mark is a author of 18 books including Passport (1974), Ward 81 (1979), Streetwise (1992), and Prom (2012). Her awards include a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and a Distinguished Photographer’s Award.
Mark is truly dedicated and excellent photographer.
“I’m a documentary photographer. That’s what I’ve always wanted to be; that’s where my heart and soul is.”