started a self-assigned project in 2003 of reviewing tens of thousands of her photographs to identify the ones that meant the most to her. This process resulted in a first rough cut of one thousand images created over forty years. From these she gradually edited down the selection, pruning until she could go no further, ultimately choosing 134 iconic pictures and arranging them in a sequence that, when examined closely, establishes an introspective and confessional story line. What unfolds in the sequence of pictures reproduced in this book cannot be read like a piece of expository journalism. Instead, each page is a benchmark in the emotional life of this artist, as well as a mirror of what she faced when the lens was focused and the shutter released. The selecting process is one utterly devoid of objectivity, and one wherein feeling takes priority over logic. The result is an amazing sequence of pictures that collectively establish the art in a documentary photograph to be the perfect reconciliation of form, emotion, and truth.

The sequence is not chronological, nor does it represent all the years and important projects equally. Almost half of the photographs were produced in the decade between 1987 and 1997, and almost as many were made in foreign places as were made in the United States, Mark's home. Viewed from the perspective of real-time chronology, as most autobiographies are, this book is like a patchwork quilt built from personal memory and is the visual history of an exceptional artist. It follows that the established sequence is driven by intuitive energy tempered by real experience--the facts of time and place. Not surprisingly, these photographs have a backstory as well as the one told on the surface, which together bring insight into Mark's emotional architecture. From her own firsthand accounts (see pages 271-286), we are given details about the unlikely circumstances in which Mark repeatedly places herself and what she was thinking at the time.

Inner personal necessity, rather than logic, governs the sequence that follows as Mark leads the viewer, image by
image, through the maze of emotions that she experienced as life unfolded before her eyes. For Mark, photography is an art of the series, which is why the picture sequence of this book must be considered. Almost all images were
extracted by the photographer from different series devoted to unique subjects and are newly revealed here as
emblems of the artist's approach and career. The context for each of the photgraphs could number from a dozen or so related pictures on a focused subject to thousands on a months-long commercial assignment.

All of what you see is here because each of the photographs occupies an important place in her mind's eye. This deliberate choice leaves no doubt that each of these pictures is meaningful to the artist in a special way. Mark chose to begin the book with an image of Federico Fellini observed from behind (pages 6-7). She portrays him dramatically lit with a megaphone to his mouth, standing on a huge sound stage near Rome, while he was filming Satyricon in 1969. Two workmen are barely visible in the background as Fellini seems to move and sway. The picture is grounded in pose and gesture, light and dark, and is no less than a resounding declaration of optimism about the creative process by an aspiring 29-year-old photographer. It was made during a three-month stay in Rome, where Mark was sent by Look magazine, and where she shot more than four thousand frames on the Satyricon set alone, with the goal of expressing in one picture the greatness of Fellini, an artist she idolized. The picture is a prime choice from her first important assignment as a professional photographer and deservedly occupies position one in this book.

Following it we see two young performers (pages 8-9)--one a preteenager and the other possibly in her late teens--who were traveling with a circus in Ahmedabad, India, in 1990. This image has nothing to do with the preceding one as far as time and place are concerned. However, the two pictures do share a lot formally. Like the dancing Fellini, the two Indian girls arrest our attention because of their poses and gestures, but here costume--a recurring theme in Mark's subjects of the 1970S and 1980s--is also important. After photographing Fellini, Mark traveled from Italy to England, and then to India for the first time, where she became enchanted with the land and its people. She has returned there many times since 1969, making thousands of photographs over the years. By placing the two young performers in position number two, Mark signals that India is a place of great importance to her, and by choosing a picture made in 1990, she suggests how many repetitions of a place or subject it takes to achieve a masterwork. In this tight sequence, Mark also establishes several visual themes to which she returns frequently in her choice of images.

While the two girls bear a physical resemblance to each other, we don't know for sure whether they are related by birth, but they at least belong to the same family of the circus. The nature and variety of family is of great interest to Mark. In placing a circus picture in position number two followed by three more (pages io-ii, 12-13, 14), she emphasizes the high place circus life occupies among her many creative priorities. Through this sequence, Mark also intimates her reliance on the role of a series of pictures as a method of communicating deeper content. Furthermore, the lead-in circus pictures tell us about her understanding that make-believe versus reality and the power of chance play big roles in photography and in life. Picture number three shows two dwarfs in lion costumes (pages io-ii), one with the mask off, while his masked partner cradles a sleeping puppy. The subject here is less about the life of human beings than it is about the role of animals in human lives. (The picture is deliberately framed with the people to the left of center in order to incorporate two more dogs in the background.) Animals return frequently in Mark's photographs over the years, sometimes as stand-ins for people.

Another theme that appears repeatedly in Mark's work is her ongoing meditation on what it is like to grow up in America. She was born in the suburbs of Philadelphia, attended Cheltenham High School, studied fine arts and photography and communications at the University of Pennsylvania, and moved to New York City in 1966 with the intent of becoming a professional photographer. There is not a single picture of Mark's own home or family here; other people's families have replaced her own. With her thick dark hair and slightly exotic looks, it is not surprising that strangers sometimes ask Mark about her ethnicity. It is also not surprising that she chooses people of color as the first subjects of this book and that the first Caucasian person to appear after Fellini is one with apparent issues about race and color (pages 16-17). In an image she made in her home of New York City in 1969 (pages 18-19), we see an African American girl vaulting over a stone wall bordering Central Park on Fifth Avenue. Three of the girl's male companions gaze at the camera as she is captured on film in a mid-air blur with her skirt billowing above her thighs. More important than the color of these children's skin is the fact that they are at play. The subject of how kids play interests Mark greatly. In her photographs, children appear as gatekeepers of the truth. Mark, who has no children of her own, sees them as figures closest to the life force, whose consciences have not yet been censored by society, and thus awards this subject a prominent place at the beginning and throughout her photographic work. Mark records their inhibitions and tells us how their young lives count for all. She communicates their trust and allows their vulnerability to be compelling. She guards their tentative lives like a mother with her camera as witness.

It is not surprising that teenagers would prove to be some of Mark's strongest subjects, and the nature of womanhood, and how young women (and occasionally young men) make the transition from preteen to teenager, is one of her recurring themes. One image in particular, a portrait of a scrawny Seattle street kid nicknamed Tiny (page 35), would become one of her most famous pictures. Tiny was 14 years old when the picture was made in the fall of 1983. For Tiny, who occasionally earned money selling herself on the street, reality was played out by dressing up like a full-grown woman. Mark could not possibly have anticipated that in releasing the shutter on this fall day, she was committing herself to a relationship with Tiny that would continue to this day. The images that immediately follow show a middle-aged Tiny, no longer the skinny adolescent we saw first. We see Tiny with her own aging mother (pages 36-37) and, in the following pages (pages 38-39, 40-41), three of the nine children to whom she gave birth, fathered by six different men. Presently, three of Tiny's children are now older than she was when Mark first photographed her.

Tiny's life is vastly different from the more or less average American teenager's, including Mark's own. Mark was head cheerleader, dated and had boyfriends, and attended the high school prom hoping to be queen. Mark tells us in picture language that a teenager's existence is delicate and anticipates an often-treacherous transition into adulthood. We see how demanding, as well as how awkward, the rites of passage are. We see as well how teenagers are pulled between the mental world they experience through education and the carnal world that life itself brings.

In the first dozen pictures of this book, Mark clearly signals her motivations and values. We understand that individual character comes first, followed by family. A staple of her work is motion pictures in production, like Satyricon, populated by famous people and the not so famous who get paid to perform. In celebrity and in anonymity she seeks out good people shunning evil ones. We understand she sees fantasy and play as essential leavening to the often-grim reality of daily existence. She believes fervently in a world without prejudice, where individuals are measured by their character, integrity, and potential. To find these qualities, Mark has focused on families that range from animals to all-American archetypes. She looks with equanimity on broken families, on families with long lineages, and on found families with limited histories. We see the families of prostitutes with unknowable secrets yet strength of character, and the families of circus acrobats who are united by their talent and the physical dependence on the timing and balance of a partner. Good art always moves forward, and in this regard Mark has advanced the potential of the social documentary tradition in photography. She elevates the idea of social conscience--as originally posited in Edward Steichen's 1955 exhibition "The Family of Man"--to a higher and more consistently challenging level of
expression. Art in a documentary photograph is the power to make the eye like and comprehend the unfamiliar; it is the magical power to bridge the gap between form and emotion by telling a true story earned from experience.


1940 Born 20 March, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

1958-64 Completes degree in painting and art history and MA in communications, University of Pennsylvania.

1965-66 Works as freelance photographer. Receives Fulbright scholarship to photograph in Turkey.

1966 Moves to New York and continues to freelance.

1974 Publishes Passport, a collection of early work from her travels.

1974-76 Begins teaching photography in Maine and California.

1976 First solo exhibition, "Bars," held at the Photographers Gallery, London. Documents the women of Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital.

1977 Awarded National Endowment for the Arts grant. Becomes a member of Magnum.

1978 Photographs prostitutes on Falkland Road, Bombay, India. Exhibition "Ward 81" at Leo Castelli Gallery in New York.

1979 Publishes Ward 81. Awarded second National Endowment for the Arts grant.

1980-81 Photographs Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.

1981 Publishes Falkland Road. Exhibition "Falkland Road" at Castelli Graphics in New York. Marries film director Martin Bell.

1982 Leaves Magnum to work independently. Awarded Leica Medal of Excellence for the Falkland Road series.

1983 Photographs street kids in Seattle for the article "Streets of the Lost" in Life magazine. This story receives Canon Photo Essayist Award and Honorable Mention in the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards.

1984 Photographs Camp Goodtimes for Life magazine. This story receives Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

1985 Publishes Mother Teresa Missions of Charity in Calcutta. Works with Martin Bell on Streetwise, a film on the kids she met while shooting "Streets of the Lost."

1987 Receives Photographer of the Year Award from the Friends of Photography. Photographs the Damm family for Life magazine. The New York Times of 12 July 1987, includes a cover story on Mark.

1988 Publishes Streetwise. Exhibition "America" at the Pasadena Art Center, Pasadena, California. Receives many awards, including World Press Award for Outstanding Body of Work Throughout the Years, George W. Polk Award for Photojournalism, Distinguished Photographer's Award for Women in Photography, and Creative Arts Awards Citation for Photography, Brandeis University.
1990 Awarded third National Endowment for the Arts grant.

1991 Publishes Mary Ellen Mark: 25 Years. Exhibition "Indian Circus: Platinum Prints" at Castelli Graphics, New York.

1992 Exhibition "Mary Ellen Mark: 25 Years" at the International Center of Photography, New York, and travels worldwide. Receives Victor Hasselblad Cover Award. Awarded honorary doctorate by the University of Arts, Philadelphia.

1993 Publishes Indian Circus. Produces two films by Martin Bell, American Heart and The Amazing Plastic Lady.

1994 Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship, honorary doctorate by the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Erich Salomon Preis Award

1996 Publishes A Cry for Help: Stories of Homelessness and Hope. Receives Picture of the Year Award for "The Sins of the Father," published in Life magazine.

1997 Awarded Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation grant. Receives Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography, New York.

1999 Publishes Mary Ellen Mark: American Odyssey.

2000 Exhibition "Strange Moments" at Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York. Exhibition "Mary Ellen Mark: American Odyssey" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, travels to the International Center of Photography and throughout America. A similar show organized by the Hasselblad Center travels throughout Europe.

2001 Publishes Mary Ellen Mark in Phaidon's 55 Series. Receives Cornell Capa Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography, New York. Awarded honorary doctorate by the Center for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan.

2003 Publishes Twins and produces a film of the same name made by Martin Bell. Exhibition "Twins" at Kennedy Boesky Gallery, New York. Starts working under contract for the New Yorker.

2004 Receives First Prize in the Arts, World Press Photo Award for the Twins series. Awarded honorary doctorates by Columbia College and Kenyon College. Exhibition "American Odyssey and Twins" at the Manchester Art Gallery, England. Exhibition "Twins" at the Hague Museum of Photography. Exhibition "Twins and Falkland Road" at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago.


This book was truly a collaborative effort. It involved many individuals. First of all, I would like to thank Mary Shanahan, the designer, photography editor, and close friend for the many hours she spent putting her brilliant creative energy into this project. I want to thank Agnethe Glatved, who worked with Mary. I am forever grateful to Meredith Lue and Martin Bell, who spent endless days helping to edit the photographs and text. I am honored that Weston Naef agreed to write the introduction. I want to thank Richard Schlagman, Karen Stein, Valerie Breuvart and the entire staff at Phaidon.

Chuck Kelton and Sarah Jenkins made the prints for this book. Robert Hennessey made the separations. I consider myself very fortunate to work with such talented people.

Every image in this book was taken with Kodak film, except for the four Polaroid images of twins. Tri-X film was the first film I used when I was a graduate student in 1963, and it remains the black-and-white film that I work with exclusively. I would like to thank Kodak and Audrey Jonckheer for their help with a forthcoming exhibition based on this book.

A special thanks to Marianne Boesky and David Fahey for their support of my work.

I would also like to acknowledge the camera, lighting, and accessories companies for their wonderful products and continued support: Broncolor, Canon, Chimera, Fotocare, Hasselblad, Leica, Linhoff, Lowepro, Mamiya, Metz, Minolta, Norman, Polaroid 20 x 24 camera, Profoto, Quantum, and Vivitar. Without these exceptional products, these images could not exist.

I want to thank the people who have worked in my studio over the years. Their research and production skills made most of these pictures possible. I am grateful to the outstanding assistants who have encouraged me and helped me technically realize many of these photographs.

Throughout my life as a photographer I have had great help from mentors and institutions. Magazine editors, photography editors, art directors, and writers have also been an enormous support and help to me. Many of the pictures in this book resulted from their belief in my work. Because this project spans so many years of work, there are not enough pages in this book for me to name all these people.

I am very grateful to them. -M.E.M.

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First published 2005
Reprinted in paperback 2006
© 2005 Phaidon Press Limited