Mary Ellen Mark, local camera master, dies

27 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark nicknamed ‘snake charmer of the soul’ for riveting gift of capture dies in New York at 75.

Documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark, called ‘a snake charmer of the soul’ for her gift of capturing searing images of human vulnerability, has died at age 75.The award-winning photographer, whose career mixing documentary and portraiture spanned 40 years, passed away Monday in New York City, Philly.com reports.

Mark had a knack for capturing the essence of people — from circus performers and celebrities, to teenagers and families living on the edges of society. Her most recent photography book, Prom, captured that delightfully awkward rite of passage for teenagers in nearly 300 portraits taken across the country.

Over the decades, “what resulted was, in fact, a lamentation: one of the most delicately shaded studies of vulnerability ever set on film,” wrote the late Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes. A collection of Mark photographs in a book titled ‘Streetwise’ documents the life of Tiny Blackwell, a Seattle prostitute and drug addict Mark met in the 1980s when Tiny was 13.

Though simple on their surface — black and white, basic backdrop, centered subject — the images are rich with details, as the teens’ postures, expressions, accessories, and clothes all draw the viewer in for a closer look. A new book on Blackwell photographed over decades is yet to be published, titled ‘Tiny: Streetwise Revisited.’ ‘By choosing America’s ideal city we were making the point: “If street kids exist in a city like Seattle then they can be found everywhere in America, and we are therefore facing a major social problem of runaways in this country.”‘Mark’s work appeared in prominent publications including Life, the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. In 1962, she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor of fine arts in art history and painting, followed by a master’s in photojournalism. ‘That’s the way I learned photography: You make your picture in the camera.

I’m not anti-digital, I just think, for me, film works better.’ ‘She was a great storyteller,’ said Melissa Harris, the editor in chief of the Aperture Foundation, who edited several of Ms. She traveled often to India, where she spent months earning the trust of the prostitutes of Mumbai. “Every day I had to brace myself for the street as if I were about to jump into freezing water,” she told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in 1991. “I started out by just walking the street. She published the first of her 18 books in 1974 and financed her photojournalism projects by taking still photographs on the sets of movies, including “Apocalypse Now” and “The Missouri Breaks.” Later, as magazines began to publish fewer photographs, she took assignments for advertising and celebrity portraits.

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