Herstory: Mary Ellen Mark – Through the Lens of a Talented Photographer

American photographer Mary Ellen Mark’s successful career in the world of advertising photography, portraiture and photojournalism was one to be admired and emulated. She has exhibited in both museums and galleries around the world, was the recipient of numerous awards and fellows, and is proof that photography knows no gender.

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Image courtesy of imgkid.com

Born in Philadelphia on March 20, 1940, Mary Ellen Mark ventured into photography using a Box Brownie camera at nine years old. Mary Ellen obtained her BFA degree in art history and painting in 1962 from the University of Pennsylvania. Two years later, she would receive her Master’s Degree in photojournalism in the same university under the Annenberg School for Communication. A year later, she began her travels to Turkey, Germany, Greece, England, Spain and Italy to photograph, thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship.

Capturing Poignant Images of the 60s and 70s

Mary Ellen Mark was also well known for her moving pictures of countless socio-political issues and demonstrations in the late sixties and early seventies. A move to New York (which would also serve as her home until the time of her death) in 1967 saw her documenting images of demonstrations in relation to the women’s liberation movement, the Vietnam War opposition, transvestite culture and more. She gravitated towards the raw and troubled side of photojournalism – far from mainstream society and well into significant social issues.

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Mary Ellen Mark, 1975 – Image courtesy of flickriver.com

Through her photography, she shone the spotlight on issues such as prostitution, homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness and loneliness, among others. Her aim in focusing on such subjects was to show their way of living to those who were in the best position to reach out or at the very least acknowledge that they exist.

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This prostitute is a transvestite; Falkland Road, Bombay, India – 1978 – Image courtesy of http://www.maryellenmark.com/

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Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon, 1976 – Image courtesy of http://www.maryellenmark.com/

From Photos to Film

Some of her work was also translated into film; her “Street Kids” project eventually turned into the movie Streetwise. In the seventies and onwards, she dabbled into unit photography. She was involved in more than a hundred known films such as Alice’s Restaurant (1969), Catch-22 (1970), Carnal Knowledge (1971), Apocalypse Now (1979), to name a few. In the early nineties, Mary Ellen Mark also became an associate producer, still photographer and a writer for the film American Heart, which starred Edward Furlong and Jeff Bridges and was directed by Martin Bell, her husband.

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In a settlement camp near New Delhi, one of the daughters of Waris (monkey trainers) plays with the animals that provide the family’s living and exist almost as members of the family. (1981) – Image courtesy of http://www.maryellenmark.com/

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“Rat” and Mike with a gun, Seattle, Washington, 1983 – Image courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/

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The Damm (homeless) family in their car, Los Angeles, California, 1987 – Image courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/

Mary Ellen Mark also went on to publish a total of 17 photography books, contribute to popular publications such as Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Life and The New Yorker, and even became a guest juror for entries submitted to The Center for Fine Art Photography.

It was a very busy and full life filled with active involvement in the world of photography, film and the media for someone like Mary Ellen Mark. Her powerful and moving photographs serve as an example of brilliant photography that not only captures beautiful subjects but also brings to the forefront issues that continue to plague our society today. On May 25, 2015, she passed away due to myelodysplastic syndrome at the age of 75 in her hometown of Manhattan.

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Image courtesy of imgbuddy.com

For more of her renowned works, please visit https://www.pinterest.com/source/maryellenmark.com/

 

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