Getting a shot that’s not watered down.
March/April 1999
Photo Editor: Deborah Mauro


For last October's issue, US magazine needed a photograph to accompany a story on Pamela Anderson Lee, so they presented the actress with work by several photographers to look over. In the mix was a book by photographer Mary Ellen Mark. "I'm not a glamour photographer and I don't want to be one," says Mark. Nonetheless, it was Mark that Lee chose to photograph her. Mark, quite frankly, was surprised: "She wanted somebody with an edge."

As the market for celebrity portraiture has skyrocketed, Mark, who has spent years documenting the nonfamous, has found herself learning to be a portraitist, and the number‑one thing she has learned is this: Portraiture is collaborative. So after deciding on a Los Angeles location for the shoot with Lee, Mark photographed her in different setups before heading to the property's pool. Though it was getting late in the day, Lee was a trooper." She said, 'Let me just play a little bit,' and she gave her all to the shoot," says Mark. "A lot of times with celebrities they're protective and afraid. She wasn't." As Mark fired off a couple rolls of film, Lee's icy stare surfaced. "It was about the combination of her beauty and vulnerability," says Mark of the photo that ran in US and is shown here. "She is this symbol of the American sex kitten, but she does have a sense of control."

Mark shot with a Hasselblad 553 ELX and Zeiss 60mm f/3.5 lens on Kodak Tri‑X Professional (ISO 320) rated at E.I. 200. Exposure was 1/60 second at f/8 with light provided by a Norman 400B flash.