THE WORK OF MARY ELLEN MARK
Laurie, Ward 81, 1976
by Mary Ellen Mark
of Mary Ellen Mark lie somewhere between social documentary photography
and photojournalism. Her work has been published in such magazines as
LIFE, LOOK, The New York Times Magazine and The
Times and she has published numerous books, including Passport,
Ward 81, Streetwise and Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay.
Mark's photographs should be looked at as individual images, able to stand alone and tell a complete story. Her photographs are mostly black and white, which may add to the drama of the already charged images.
The common thread in her work has always been a central interest in people. The people she photographs are the "unfamous," those who occcupy the fringes of society, whose stories might otherwise never be told. Her work offers a different perspective on such societal concerns as homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness and teenage pregnancy.
Mark tends to seek out individuals in their own environments, becoming an integrated part of their world. Her images are very personal because she observes from within that world rather than from outside it.
A perfect example of this commitment to making photographs from an immersed and involved perspective is Mark's series Ward 81. In 1976 Mark and a colleague spent thirty-six days in the women's maximum security section of an Oregon mental institution, resulting in images such as Laurie, Ward 81 and other similarly haunting photographs.
Although the large majority of Mark's work is social documentary / photojournalism, she has also photographed celebrities and her fellow photographers. Her photograph of Andre Kertesz, 1983, (above right) is a telling portrait of a man whose photographs have made a profound impact on Twentieth Century photography.
Lily, 1983, is another example of Mark's socially provocative style of concerned documentary work. First appearing in her photo essay "Streets of the Lost: Runaway Kids Eke Out a Mean Life in Seattle," (which ran in LIFE in July 1983), the photograph reveals Mark's ability to change a "generic" story, such as one on runaways, into a revealing and very personal perspective on an individual. In most cases it is obvious that Mark has gotten to know and understand the people she photographs, but often leaves the viewer to interpret the image as they will.
All images are copyright by the artist or by UC Regents, 1999, all rights reserved.