Mary Ellen Mark

Dates1940 - 2015
BornPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Mary Ellen Mark is a renowned and accomplished photojournalist, whose work has enabled her to witness extremes of life around the world. Her subjects are frequently in heartbreaking situations--coping with adverse circumstances such as poverty, physical abuse, homelessness, or drug addiction. Mark's pictures often focus on interpersonal bonds (including those between humans and animals), but they are not sentimental. Although her subjects' reveal their vulnerability before her camera, their honesty implies that she relates to them with tremendous compassion and respect. She readily credits her identity as a woman as instrumental in enabling her to gain her subjects' trust.

Mark was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. After studying painting and art history as an undergraduate, she attended the Annenberg School for Communication. There, she immediately realized that she wanted to become a photojournalist. Beginning with her earliest freelance assignments in the mid-1960s and her association with the Magnum picture agency from 1977 to 1982, she earned steady recognition for her images published in magazines and books. Mark's best-known photography essays include Ward 81 (1979), a study of severely ill women at Oregon State Mental Hospital; Falkland Road (1981), an essay on prostitutes in Bombay, India; Mother Teresa's Mission of Charity in Calcutta (1985); Streetwise (1988), which focused on runaway teenagers in Seattle, Washington; Indian Circus (1993); and Twins (2003). Since the 1990s, Mark has turned her attention to broader monographs and exhibitions of her work.