Mary Ellen Mark

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mary Ellen Mark
Mark in 2010
Born(1940-03-20)March 20, 1940
DiedMay 25, 2015(2015-05-25) (aged 75)
Known forPhotography
SpouseMartin 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 21 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[edit]

Mary Ellen Mark's passport photo, 1963. (photo by Lou Barlow)

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 special stills 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 21 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."[13]

Mark was a Documentary Competition Juror at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.[14]

Mark joined Magnum Photos in 1977 and left in 1981,[2][15] 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[16] and taught workshops at the International Center of Photography in New York, in Mexico[17] and at the Center for Photography at Woodstock.

Mark and her husband Martin Bell worked on the documentary film Streetwise together. The film was based on Mark's photographic essay "Streets of the Lost" made on assignment for Life magazine with writer Cheryl McCall.

Mark and Bell continued to document one of the characters from Streetwise, Erin "Tiny" Blackwell. The film Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell and the book Tiny: Streetwise Revisited are the culmination of this 30+ year journey.

They also collaborated on other film projects in conjunction with Mark's photographic projects, including Twins, Prom, Indian Circus and Extraordinary Child.[18]

She was the 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

Mark died on May 25, 2015, in Manhattan, aged 75, of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood illness caused by bone marrow failure.[2][19][20][21]


  • Passport. New York: Lustrum Press, 1974. ISBN 978-0-912810-14-0.
  • Photojournalism: Mary Ellen Mark and Annie Leibovitz: The Woman's Perspective. Petersons, 1974. ISBN 978-0-8227-0069-2.
  • Ward 81. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979. ISBN 978-0-671-24545-0. Main text by Karen Folger Jacobs, introduction by Miloš Forman.
  • Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay: Photographs and Text. New York: Knopf, 1981. ISBN 978-0-394-50987-7.
  • Photographs of Mother Teresa's Mission of Charity in Calcutta. Carmel, CA: Friends of Photography, 1985. ISBN 978-0-933286-43-6. Introduction by David Featherston.
  • Streetwise. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1988. ISBN 978-0-8122-1268-6. Text and photographs edited by Nancy Baker, introduction by John Irving.
  • The Photo Essay. Photographers at Work series. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990. ISBN 978-1-56098-003-2.
  • Mary Ellen Mark: 25 Years. New York: Bulfinch, 1991. ISBN 978-0-8212-1837-2. Text by Marianne Fulton. Accompanied an exhibition at George Eastman House.
  • Indian Circus. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993, and Japan: Takarajimasha, 1993. ISBN 978-0-8118-0531-5. Foreword by John Irving.
  • Portraits. Milan: Federico Motta, 1995. ISBN 978-88-7179-075-6. Italian-language version.
  • A Cry for Help: Stories of Homelessness and Hope. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. ISBN 978-0-684-82593-9. Introduction by Andrew Cuomo, preface by Robert Coles, interviews reported by Victoria Kohn.
  • Mary Ellen Mark: American Odyssey. New York: Aperture, 1999. ISBN 978-0-89381-880-7. Edited by Melissa Harris, afterword by Mark and with a poem each by Maya Angelou and La Shawndrea. Accompanied an exhibition by Philadelphia Museum of Art. "A broad survey of photographs taken across the United States from 1963–1999."[22]
  • Mary Ellen Mark 55. Phaidon 55 series. London: Phaidon, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7148-4617-0. "A collection of both iconic and previously unpublished photographs."[22]
  • Mary Ellen Mark. Photo Poche series. Paris: Nathan, 2002. "Photographs taken between 1965 and 2001."[22]
  • Twins. New York: Aperture, 2003. ISBN 978-1-931788-19-9.
  • Exposure: Mary Ellen Mark: The Iconic Photographs. London: Phaidon, 2005. Hardback, 2005. ISBN 978-0-7148-4404-6. Paperback, 2006. ISBN 978-0-7148-4626-2. A retrospective. Introductions by Weston Naef and Mark, extensive captions by Mark.
  • Undrabörn: Extraordinary Child. Reykjavík: National Museum of Iceland, 2007. ISBN 978-9979-790-14-3. Foreword by Margaret Hallgrimsdottir, introduction by Mark, essay by Einar Falur Ingólfsson. Catalogue of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Photography, 8 September 2007 – 27 January 2008. Icelandic and English.
  • Seen Behind the Scene. London: Phaidon, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7148-4847-1. Introduction by Mark, "A World Behind the Scene" and texts by Francis Ford Coppola, Helen Mirren, Alejandro González Iñárritu and others. Portraits made on film sets.
    • Uno sguardo dietro le quinte. Quarant'anni di fotografie sui set cinematografici. Phaidon, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7148-5712-1.
  • Prom. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012. ISBN 978-1-60606-108-4. "Images of high school students at their proms, photographed by Mary Ellen Mark at thirteen schools across the United States. The book includes a DVD of the film, also titled Prom, by filmmaker Martin Bell"[23]
  • Man and Beast: Photographs from Mexico and India. Austin: University of Texas, 2014. ISBN 978-0-292-75611-3. With transcript of an interview with Mark by Melissa Harris.
  • Mary Ellen Mark on the Portrait and the Moment. The Photography Workshop Series. New York: Aperture, 2015. ISBN 978-1-59711-316-8.
  • Tiny: Streetwise Revisited. New York: Aperture, 2015. ISBN 978-1-59711-262-8. With an afterword by Mark, a prologue by Isabel Allende and text by John Irving.
  • The Book of Everything. Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2020. Edited by Martin Bell. ISBN 978-3-95829-565-0.[24][25]


Recognition and awards[edit]

Grants and fellowships[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Long, Andrew (March 28, 2000). "Brilliant Careers". Salon. Archived from the original on April 1, 2002. Retrieved November 10, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Laurent, Olivier (May 26, 2015). "In Memoriam: Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015)". Time. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m O'Hagan, Sean (May 27, 2015). "Mary Ellen Mark obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Naef, Weston Mary Ellen Mark: Exposure (Phaidon Press, 2006), Introduction. ISBN 978-0-7148-4626-2; ISBN 978-0-7148-4626-2
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Mary Ellen Mark, photographer – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. London. May 27, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  6. ^ Crowder, Nicole (May 27, 2015). "Celebrating the legacy of photographer Mary Ellen Mark, dead at age 75". Washington Post. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Frame, Allen "Mary Ellen Mark" Archived November 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine BOMB Magazine Summer 1989, Retrieved July 27, 2011
  8. ^ Uncited but quoted in Long, "Brilliant Careers", Salon
  9. ^ Berman, Eliza (May 26, 2015). "See Mary Ellen Mark's Most Memorable Photo Essay". Time. Archived from the original on May 27, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  10. ^ Shattuck, Kathryn. "Another Camera on the Set", The New York Times, December 25, 2008, plus page 1 of 7 of online slide show
  11. ^ Hamilton, Peter (May 28, 2015). "Remembering Mary Ellen Mark". British Journal of Photography. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  12. ^ Lovece, Frank. "The Real Life of Mary Ellen Mark" Take Great Pictures. October 1, 2011. Archived October 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ AnOther (September 17, 2020). ""I'm Always on Their Side": Mary Ellen Mark's Top Quotes on Photography". AnOther. Retrieved February 12, 2021.
  14. ^ "Sundance Institute".
  15. ^ Chronology, Magnum Photos (London: Thames & Hudson, 2008; ISBN 978-0-500-41094-3), not paginated.
  16. ^ "". Archived from the original on July 4, 2011.
  17. ^ Lafreniere, Steve (July 1, 2008). "Mary Ellen Mark". Vice. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  18. ^ "Mary Ellen Mark". Retrieved December 20, 2023.
  19. ^ Gilmour, Lucy (May 26, 2015). "Remembering the Work of Mary Ellen Mark, Photography's Fierce Poet". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  20. ^ Saul, Heather (May 27, 2015). "Mary Ellen Mark: Renowned documentary photographer dies aged 75". The Independent. London. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  21. ^ Grimes, William (May 26, 2015). "Mary Ellen Mark, Photographer Who Documented Difficult Subjects, Dies at 75". The New York Times. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  22. ^ a b c "Mary Ellen Mark – Books", Mary Ellen Mark. Accessed 1 June 2015.
  23. ^ "Prom", Worldcat. Accessed 1 June 2015.
  24. ^ Dazed (September 21, 2020). "Mary Ellen Mark was the photographer who saw it all". Dazed. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  25. ^ Shapiro, Bill (September 21, 2020). "3 Female Photographers on the Fearsome Legacy of Mary Ellen Mark". Vogue. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  26. ^ "Mary Ellen Mark | Twins". Marianne Boesky Gallery. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  27. ^ "Mary Ellen Mark: Twins and Falkland Road". Museum of Contemporary Photography. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  28. ^ "Falkland Road". Yancey Richardson Gallery. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  29. ^ "Mary Ellen Mark: The Prom Series". Johnson Museum of Art. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  30. ^ "MARY ELLEN MARK Seen Behind the Scene". Staley Wise Gallery. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  31. ^ "Prom: Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark". Philadelphia Museum of Art. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  32. ^ "Mary Ellen Mark: Man and Beast". The Wittliff Collections. November 20, 2017. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  33. ^ Estrin, James (May 5, 2016). "Attitude, by Mary Ellen Mark". New York Times. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  34. ^ "Looking For Home". The Museum of Street Culture. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  35. ^ "Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood". National Museum of Women In The Arts. Retrieved September 11, 2020.
  36. ^ "Mary Ellen Mark Ward 81 - The Image Centre". Retrieved April 21, 2023.
  37. ^ "Mary Ellen Mark | C/O Berlin". Retrieved April 21, 2023.
  38. ^ a b Goldberg, Vicki (July 12, 1987). "The Unflinching Eye: Photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark". The New York Times.
  39. ^ "1986 Mary Ellen Mark GNS2-AK". World Press Photo. Archived from the original on November 12, 2018. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  40. ^ a b "Mary Ellen Mark: Man and Beast". The Wittliff Collections. January 14, 2014.
  41. ^ Warren, Lynne (2005). Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, 3-Volume Set. Routledge. p. 1013. ISBN 978-1-135-20543-0.
  42. ^ "2004 Mary Ellen Mark AES1-AL". World Press Photo. Archived from the original on November 12, 2018. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  43. ^ "The Lucie Awards – Mary Ellen Mark". Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  44. ^ "Moore College of Art & Design – More about Visionary Woman Awards". Archived from the original on November 13, 2018. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  45. ^ "Mary Ellen Mark, 1940–2015". Art Directors Club of New York. May 26, 2015.

External links[edit]