AMERICAN PHOTO
THE SECRETS OF THEIR SUCCESS
From the early days to the glory years, this is how the legends made their marks.
July/August 1995
By Catherine Calhoun
Art Director Patricia Marroquin
 
It's useful to remember that nearly every successful artist ‑photographers most certainly included‑ was at one time struggling for recognition. Even the legends had to start somewhere, and every career has a turning point. For Annie Leibovitz, it was happening upon a peace rally in San Francisco in the late 1960s. For William Klein it was a chance meeting with the art director Alexander Liberman. For Mary Ellen Mark it was a stint at her college alumni magazine. For Frenchman Jeanloup Sieff it was a seemingly inconsequential magazine assignment. For Horst P. Horst it was some well-timed name‑dropping during an important luncheon. And for war photographer James Nachtwey it was a first job at a newspaper.

The six success stories on these pages are tales of luck and talent aided by just the right amount of moxie at just the right moment. That's a formula the legends of tomorrow would be wise to keep in mind.

(Excerpt)

MARY ELLEN MARK

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Federico Fellini during the filming of Satyricon, shot by Mark for Look magazine early in her career.

It was in the early 1970s that documentary photographer Mark began hitting her stride with big stories for Look magazine. But those assignments had been a long time coming. Mark started taking pictures when she was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. She then went on to do graduate work in photography at the university's Annenberg School of Communications, where she made the fateful decision to photograph for her alma mater's alumni magazine. Eventually, that work would help her get a foothold in the world of big‑time magazine journalism.

After getting her graduate degree, Mark traveled to Mexico and various other destinations to build a portfolio. That accomplished, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and went off to photograph in Turkey for a year.

When she got back to the States, she moved to New York City and continued to work for the University of Pennsylvania alumni magazine as well as small publications like the Catholic magazine Jubilee. Now all she needed was a real break.

It came in the form of Pat Carbine, then editor of Look, whom Mark met while shooting an event for the alumni magazine. "Pat told me to bring my portfolio over," Mark says, which she did. Carbine was impressed, so much so that she gave the photographer a couple of assignments, which then led to a call from Life magazine asking Mark to do a story on feminists ‑"a new phenomenon at the time," Mark remembers, "real strange creatures."

A few more assignments followed before Mark approached Carbine with the idea of photographing Federico Fellini filming Satyricon in Italy. While she was in Europe shooting the great director, Mark heard about a clinic in London that tried to cure heroin addicts by giving them small doses of the drug. She called Carbine from Italy to propose it as a story idea, and the editor gave her the go‑ahead over the phone. "Those were my first two big assignments," Mark says. And they were both featured prominently in the pages of Look.

For her part, Mark gives Carbine all the credit for the success of these early stories. "People have to believe in you," the photographer says. "Pat gave me my first break, and I'll always be grateful to her for that. I never forget the people who gave me those chances." Even now, the established documentarian, who's currently doing some fashion shots for Vogue, braces herself for battles with editors. "I'm telling you, when I can convince a magazine now to do the work I want to do, I'm still grateful," she says. Apparently, no matter how big they are, photographers have to keep pushing and proving themselves on every assignment, constantly restarting themselves. The work never ends.


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A recent portrait of Mark.

END