Mary Ellen Mark's America has to be seen; it cannot be described. She says she often views her subjects with irony, but it's irony of a complex sort, neither obvious nor cruel. 'For a photographer, America is the most fascinating country in the world ‑full of tragedy and humor,' she says. Her pictures show how these contradictions can exist side by side.
"America has been photographed so well by so many people ‑especially Robert Frank‑ that you have to look for ways to see it freshly," says Mark, who has also photographed prostitutes in Bombay and minorities in Australia. In recent years she has taken on many assignments that have let her look at America.
For a story on well‑to‑do black Americans in Germany's Stern magazine, she photographed a pair of children attending dance school in Newark (right);
For the New York Times, she caught a father and son at a Christian bikers' convention in Arizona (above left)
For London's Independent, she shot contestants in an old‑age Olympics competition in St. Louis (left).
In other hands, these subsets of American society might have been merely amusing targets, but Mark doesn't go for easy laughs. She looks at America and sees what can only be called kinship.