Mary Ellen Mark

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Mary Ellen Mark
Born (1940-03-20) March 20, 1940 (age 75)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Nationality American
Known for Photography
Spouse(s) Martin Bell

Mary Ellen Mark (born March 20, 1940) is an American photographer known for her photojournalism, portraiture, and advertising photography. She has had 16 collections of her work published and has been exhibited at galleries and museums worldwide. She has received numerous accolades, including three Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Early life and career[edit]

Mary Ellen Mark was born in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,[1] and began photographing with a Box Brownie camera at age nine. She attended Cheltenham High School,[1] where she was head cheerleader and exhibited a knack for painting and drawing. She received a BFA degree in painting and art history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1962, and a Masters Degree in photojournalism from that university's Annenberg School for Communication in 1964.[2] The following year, Mark received a Fulbright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey for a year.[2] While there, she also traveled to photograph England, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Spain.[3]

In 1966[1] or 1967,[3] 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".[3] 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".[4]

Mark utilises a wide range of film cameras, in various formats from 2 ¼ inch square, 35 mm, and 4x5 inch view camera, using Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film.[5]

Photography career[edit]

Mark 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 photographed Federico Fellini shooting his film Satyricon (1969).[3] Mark has since photographed on the sets of more than 100 movies, up through at least director Baz Luhrmann's Australia (2008).[6] Mark is well known for establishing strong relationships with her subjects, as she has spoken about after her experiences in the Home for the Dying in Calcutta, and her project "Street Kids" for LIFE Magazine, which developed into the movie Streetwise.[7]

Mark has published 17 books of photographs; contributed to publications including Life, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair; and her photographs have been exhibited worldwide.[2] She has served as a guest juror for photography call for entries at The Center for Fine Art Photography.[8]

Film career[edit]

In 1992 Mark was a writer, associate producer and still photographer for the feature film American Heart starring Jeff Bridges and Edward Furlong. The film was directed by her husband Martin Bell.


Her photography has addressed such social issues as homelessness, loneliness, drug addiction, and prostitution. She works primarily in black and white. 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." Mark has 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]


Mark is married to film director Martin Bell. As of 2011, the couple reside in New York City, New York.


Awards and honors[edit]

Awards and honors[edit]


  • 1980 First Prize, Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, "Mother Teresa", Life
  • 1980 Page One Award for Excellence in Journalism, The Newspaper Guild of New York, "Children of Desire", The New York Times Magazine
  • 1981 First Prize, Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, "Mother Teresa in Calcutta", Life Magazine
  • 1982 Leica Medal of Excellence, Falkland Road
  • 1984 First Prize, Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, "Camp Good Times", Life
  • 1986 The Phillipe Halsman Award for Photojournalism, American Society of Magazine Photographers
  • 1987 Photographer of the Year Award, The Friends of Photography
  • 1988 World Press Photo Award, for Outstanding Body of Work Throughout the Years
  • 1988 George Polk Award, Photojournalism
  • 1988 Distinguished Photographer's Award, Women in Photography*
  • 1989 The World Hunger Media Awards, Best Photojournalism, "Children of Poverty", Life
  • 1990 Pictures of the Year Award for Magazine Portrait/Personality, "The Face of Rural Poverty", Fortune Magazine
  • 1992 Society of Newspaper Design, Award of Excellence, Magazine Cover and Photojournalism Feature, The New York Times Magazine
  • 1993 Front Page Award, The Newswomen's Club of New York, "Cree Indians" for Condé Nast Traveler, November 10, 1993
  • 1994 The Professional Photographer of the Year Award, Photographic Manufacturers and Distributors Association
  • 1995 Pictures of the Year, 1st Place Magazine Division, "Napping" Freelance/Life
  • 1996 Pictures of the Year, 1st Place Magazine Division, for issue reporting "Damm Family"; 3rd place in Magazine division for picture essay
  • 1996 Master Series Award, School of Visual Arts
  • 1997 Infinity Award, International Center of Photography
  • 1998 The Art Directors Club Silver Award, "El Circo"
  • 1998 The Society of Publication Designers, Gold Medal Award for Design Entire Issue, "Battle of the Generations", Fast Company
  • 1999 Leadership Award, International Photographic Council
  • 1999 Photographic Administrators Incorporated, Award for Excellence in Photojournalism
  • 2001 Cornell Capa Award, International Center of Photography
  • 2003 Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Photography[11]
  • 2004 World Press Photo Awards, First Prize in the Arts (Twins series)
  • 2006 Visionary Woman Award, Moore College of Art & Design

Grants and fellowships[edit]


  • 1965-66 Fulbright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey
  • 1975 U.S.I.A. Grant to lecture and exhibit in Yugoslavia
  • 1977 National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1977 New York State Council for the Arts: CAPS Grant
  • 1978 Commissioned Artist with the Bell System Photography Project
  • 1979-80 National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1990 National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1994 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
  • 1997 Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation Grant to continue to make pictures for the American book & exhibition project


  1. ^ a b c Naef, Weston Mary Ellen Mark: Exposure (Phaidon Press, 2006), Introduction. ISBN 0-7148-4626-0; ISBN 978-0-7148-4626-2
  2. ^ a b c d e Mary Ellen Mark Photographs (official site)
  3. ^ a b c d Long, Andrew. "Brilliant Careers: Mary Ellen Mark", Salon, March 28, 2000
  4. ^ Uncited but quoted in Long, "Brilliant Careers", Salon
  5. ^ Lovece, Frank. "The Real Life of Mary Ellen Mark | Take Great Pictures." Home | Take Great Pictures. Web. 01 Oct. 2011.
  6. ^ Shattuck, Kathryn. "Another Camera on the Set", The New York Times, December 25, 2008, plus page 1 of 7 of online slide show
  7. ^ a b Frame, Allen "Mary Ellen Mark" BOMB Magazine Summer 1989, Retrieved July 27, 2011
  8. ^
  9. ^ Getty Publications, 2012
  10. ^
  11. ^ Lucie Awards 2003

External links[edit]