Andre Cantelmo Photography | Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark

June 07, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Her work was exhibited in galleries and Museums, she published 18 books, and in the photography world everyone knew her.  Mary Ellen Mark, a world class Photojournalist and Documentarian passed away May 25, 2015 from a blood illness involving bone marrow failure.  Born and raised in Elkins Park, Pa. a suburb of Philadelphia Mark began her relationship with Photography at age nine with a Brownie Box Camera.  With a BFA in painting and Art History from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in Photojournalism, and a Fulbright scholarship she began her lifelong work of giving voice to people whose lives were lived at or near the fringes of society.


Mark had a reputation for getting close to her subjects.   Her work included subjects such as the Vietnam War protests, Woman’s Liberation movement, and social issues that included, homelessness, loneliness, drug addiction, and prostitution.  She traveled the world with her cameras that varied from time to time from 35mm, medium format, 4 X 5, and a 20 X 24 Polaroid Land Camera. In a Times of London interview she stated, "I'm for the underdog. I certainly feel that it's a land of unequal opportunity. I'm interested in having people feel for the people I photograph. It's an unfair world."  This theme was a constant in Mark's work, and it brought her to subjects in Mexico and India for her "Man and Beast" exhibition of April 2014.  Her photographs always perfectly printed explored her lifelong passion for photographing animals in circuses with their trainers.  This exhibition explored the subtle humanity of animals and the darkness within humans. Mark was able to freely explore her subjects because she photographed from the inside out.  She immersed herself in the subject matter and gained trust as well as understanding.  This ability allowed her subjects essence to be captured on film.  In the mid 1970's Mark worked on a series of photographs entitled Laurie, ward 81.  For this project Ms. Mark moved into an Oregon mental institution. Her stay there allowed her to blend into the surroundings and remove the camera as a distraction resulting in very powerful photographs, expertly printed as usual.  These straightforward stark photographs could have only been made because of the trust her subjects had in Mary Ellen Mark.


I admired Ms. Mark and her dedication to her work.  It is still rare that a person can follow their passion, and make a living doing what they love.  Mary Ellen Mark was very good at her work, an artist.  She intended her work to spur on social change, attitude change, and acceptance of life lived on the fringes of society.  It has been said the only thing we can count on is change.  Ms. Mark's work attempted to direct that change and encourage compassion and justice from the fortunate to the less so.  We are diminished by her absence, as are the subjects she chose for her life's work.  They have lost their champion.


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