Our instincts were good even if our thinking was overambitious. Our goal, simply, was to look back over the past ten years and choose ten photographers whom we could proudly proclaim as "the best." As befits a project of such well‑intentioned lunacy, our criteria were loosely defined. We would, we declared, choose photographers who had unquestionably left a "mark." But of course the achievements could vary. We might choose one person because of a memorable body of work created during the decade, and we might choose another because of a distinctive photographic style that he or she established. The problem was that the 1980s offered far too many important photographers ‑it was a time of reinvention and rebirth for the still image. In the end, we could not pick ten "best." But certainly the photographers we feature on these pages can be called masters. They have over the past decade changed the way we look at the world.
Mary Ellen Mark
Man with Megaphone by Pool, 1979/80
Mary Ellen Mark is a documentary photographer with an artist's eye. Her subjects are often vulnerable and abused; some are survivors and others lost souls. She has sought out female mental patients in Oregon, prostitutes in Bombay, and teenage runaways in Seattle, taking the viewer where most of us would never go.
Less severely tested than her more familiar subjects but no less sympathetically viewed are these oldsters in Miami Beach. "There is a strange sense of sadness and also a sense of humor in Miami Beach," Mark observes. Whether dealing with bitter reality or the lighter side of life, Mark makes pictures that celebrate the strength of human fortitude.