Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark, Photographer and Force of Nature –

More on the passing of Mary Ellen Mark from the New York Times LENS:

Mary Ellen Mark, one of the leading documentary photographers of the last 50 years, died on Monday from myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder, according to her studio librarian, Meredith Lue. She was 75.

Melissa Harris, the editor in chief at Aperture, who edited two books with Ms. Mark and was a close friend, described her as “a force of nature” who pushed herself despite her illness. She described Ms. Mark as someone who cared deeply about people and calling attention to injustice. That meant going back often to her subjects, in order to delve deeply into their lives, relying on that connection to give her work a humane touch.

Above all, Ms. Harris cherished Ms. Mark as a “fiercely loyal” friend.

“She was sort of chivalrous in a way, a remarkable woman and a remarkable friend,” Ms. Harris said. “As a photographer, she was an exceedingly sensitive storyteller who related very intimately to her subjects, and was able to convey something about them that got right to someone’s heart.”

via Mary Ellen Mark, Photographer and Force of Nature –

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.


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.