Great Photographers

Times Feature on 15 Women Who Received No Obituary Includes One That is Inexcusable

Someone posted this to a message board I frequent yesterday morning. I clicked on the thread and saw the names and thought, Bronte, etc, whatever. Ancient history. Sylvia Plath surprised me. But then I forgot about it all and went about doing other things. Later I opened the NYTimes app on my iPhone and the first thing I saw, because the Times is pushing this feature out there, was the image above of a woman with a camera. The face was instantly familiar but I literally could not believe my eyes.

Why is Diane Arbus’s picture attached to this feature?

So instantly, far from being appreciative of the long overdue recognition of this amazing iconic photographer, just seeing her there included and knowing per passing wasn’t noted at the time in the newspaper of record set off a rush of anger in me. Arbus is like a pillar of my photographic world.

The emotion I felt and still feel at seeing that Diane Arbus didn’t warrant an obituary in the New York Times comes from a place of meaning because I understand who she was during her life. I don’t think the reason she didn’t get an obit was about her being a woman. I think it was about her work. And also about her personal affect. And I think the writer they chose for this overdue obituary and the piece he produced says everything about why she didn’t receive an obituary decades ago.

Arbus had been championed by John Szarkowski and had already had an exhibition at MOMA. She was famous. But she was difficult and she’d pissed off a lot of people with both her work and her temperament. Many people poisoned her reputation and I think all of that impacted whether or not she would have warranted, in the eyes of the people who make these decisions, an obituary in her own city’s newspaper of record.

It’s one thing to pull up people from the ancient past. It’s a whole different animal when you admit to something from the modern era that is as glaring as this. And then blame it all on a bias against women. I’m just not having it. Read the piece. At this point, is it really necessary to include all of the scathing criticisms of her work and her life? You can literally see why the Times chose not to give Diane Arbus an obituary when she died. I’m not going to say that isn’t great writing. It’s great writing. But everything you need to know is inherent in this piece published today.

“After decades of intense examination of her work and life, perhaps there is room to understand Arbus as a woman driven by artistic vision as well as personal compulsion, and her photographs as documents of empathy as well as exploitation.”

Perhaps. As well as exploitation. Do you see what I’m saying? Agendas are everything in our world.

Just to be clear, Diane Arbus does not deserve this paragraph above in 2018. She is a giant of 20th century photography. 

I think I’m taking this personally for a couple of reasons. One I won’t get into. But the other is that I’m a photographer who fully expects to be ignored until long after I’m gone if not forever. Because I’m producing a controversial and unconventional (in the art world) form of photography that many would see as exploitative. Nothing on the level of an Arbus in any respect I will be the first to tell you. But to see this type of snobbery still shaping the perspective and assessment of the work of Diane Arbus? It’s soul crushing.

Someone tweeted this series of long overdue obituaries and added the following:

Read these beautiful tributes to extraordinary women who were overlooked by the New York Times. 

I would ask anyone to read James Estrin’s piece on Diane Arbus and ask yourself if it is a beautiful tribute to an extraordinary woman. In the case of Diane Arbus, a better and more honest approach the Times could have taken was just to admit the underlying yet obvious hostility that existed towards her work back in the years of her life. Admit it all now.

In the early 1070s, clearly in the modern era, when we should have known better, and because we were listening to voices who had nothing but contempt for someone who would go on to be regarded as a giant of 20th century photography, we decided not to provide an obituary to our readers to note the passing of Diane Arbus.

But if you read this correction of the record, you’ll find that you’re still hearing from one of those scornful voices. Very disappointing but not unexpected. Snobbery and probably no small measure of jealousy are still shaping our world. Shame on the New York Times.

The Democratic Forest: William Eggleston


“Eggleston was in New York during the last week in October for the opening of a new exhibition of his work at the Zwirner gallery that runs through December 17. All of the nearly 50 images in the show were taken in the ’80s as part of a mammoth series called The Democratic Forest, which in its entirety includes some 12,000 images. But in the Zwirner show, for the first time, many of the images have been reproduced on a giant scale, some of them five feet across. Staring at them on opening night (and it is a measure of how Eggleston is idolized, particularly by the young, that hundreds of people braved a truly filthy rain to attend the opening), I thought, when you make a picture that big, there is no room for error, no place for a photographer to hide. And in this case, no need. You could put these pictures on a billboard, and they would lose none of their integrity.”

Source: William Eggleston: The Father of Modern Color Photography – The Daily Beast

Legendary Photographer Mary Ellen Mark Dead at 75


Mary Ellen Mark at the Leica store, Los Angeles, 2013. Photos by Donald Barnat

Sad news VIA –

Mary Ellen Mark, a photographer known for her incredible humanist photography, passed away Monday in New York City. A rep confirmed the news Tuesday morning. She was 75.

Mark was born (March 20, 1940) and raised in Elkins Park. She graduated from Cheltenham High School (“I was head cheerleader,” she told the Inquirer’s Stephen Rea in 2008). In 1962, she received a bachelor of fine arts in art history and painting from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master’s in photojournalism in 1964 from Penn’s Annenberg School of Communication. She would return to the local institution to receive honorary doctorates in fine arts in 1992 and 1994.


Mark said she got her big break while working for a Penn alumni magazine. On assignment at Rosemont College, she met Pat Carbine, then managing editor of Look, who later took her pitch to photograph London drug clinics.

“From the very first moment I took pictures [on the streets of Philadelphia], I loved it,” Mark told the Inquirer’s Michael Matza in 1988. “The thrill was the idea of just being on a street, turning a corner and looking for something to see. It was just an amazing feeling. … Photography became my obsession. … In a way it’s not so different when I go out to work now. It’s just that now I have years of experience in knowing how to use that little machine in front of me – at least better than I used it then. When it’s good and interesting it’s still that feeling of being on the street and wondering – God, I love this! – what’s going to happen next?”

via Legendary Philadelphia-born photographer Mary Ellen Mark, 75, dies.


19 Pages of Famous Leica Photographers and their Cameras – NewOldTime


Leica tra realtà e finzione - Parliamo daltro - NewOldTime

Incredible! Mary Ellen Mark did not just show up at the Leica Gallery in LA lovely but apparently was a lovely person prior to last summer. Who knew? And she actually DID shoot Leica cameras. What a shocker that is. (kidding. well… )

Leica tra realtà e finzione – Parliamo daltro – NewOldTime.

Mary Ellen Mark at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles


Reposting this from last summer when Mary Ellen Mark, icon of 20th century documentary photography, presented and discussed images from her incredible career upstairs at the gallery atop the (then) new Leica store in Los Angeles.

The store was and is beautiful. The event was flawlessly executed. Mary Ellen Mark running a slide show (not really, it was a Mac-powered presentation) of her work and talking about it was a moving and humbling experience.

But nothing, of course, matched the thrill of photographing her. During her talk she mentioned that the biggest mistake photographers make is, after they’ve taken a few dozen shots of a subject or situation, thinking they have the shot. She said she works a photographic opportunity to death and that was probably the best advice she could give to photographers.

This is not advice I have ever needed to hear.

After the presentation the great Mary Ellen Mark hung around to meet and chat with members of the audience and sign a few of her books. There were, of course, a number of people snapping pictures of her. I know these kinds of events, the light, the many challenges, etc. It’s why I’ve chosen the Leica M gear that I use with incredibly capable and expensive lenses like the 50mm Summilux 1.4.

I was surprised to see that no other photographer at the Leica gallery was shooting an M – anything. Very surprised. There were X2 and X Varios but not an M that I could see. And consequently, no M glass. Well, at that point a light bulb went off in my head. A talking light bulb. It said, you’re the only photographer here with a camera and lens capable of pulling this off. It’s Mary Ellen Mark. Get to it!

So I started moving around the room, moving in close and low when I could, struggling to hold the camera still on my end and hoping Mary Ellen et. al. didn’t move too much themselves so that I could come away with some sharp images. At first, Mary Ellen paid me no mind. Most everyone there wanted to meet her and set about doing just that. She was very busy and very gracious.

mary_ellen_dip3-2(click for larger view)

I didn’t really want to meet her in a situation such as this. I don’t really count that as actually meeting someone. What would I say beyond expressing my respect and admiration which does very little but force her, in this context, to respond for the fiftieth time in ten minutes. But as I continued to move around stalking my shots I couldn’t help but notice that, after more than one quick glance my way, she actually became a more animated subject.

You sometimes sense that people don’t want their picture taken. But Mary Ellen Mark, as a photographer who has inserted herself into so many desperate and even dangerous situations, shot so many difficult and dramatic human subjects, was familiar with and navigating that tension and resistance and the people projecting it to her long before I ever even picked up a camera with any serious intent.

Mary Ellen did not, thank you very much, project anything like that resistance or tension to me.

So I kept shooting. Adjusting my settings. Trying to think of everything. People were, of course, moving, jostling for position. It’s a crap shoot but you just keep going and going knowing that most of the shots you’re getting are throw aways. In retrospect, I wish I had done a lot of things different. I think I’d had too much caffeine.

This goes on, well, sort of off and on, for about 20 minutes. I’m really the only person there behaving like a photographer, diligently snapping away at this scene. I don’t know how or why that was the case, but it was. Lucky me.

At one point not long before I bailed, the fact that I wasn’t going to approach and meet her no doubt became apparent to her, as was it clearly mutually understood that I was photographing her and she was allowing me to photographer her. Either I had taken her advice to heart or came to the event already in possession of it. And it was at that point that Mary Ellen Mark gave me a look, a very sly smile, with squinted twinkling eyes.

I have that picture but it’s not the most flattering shot. So these will have to do.