With the success of the January 2002 article "A Second Look," which featured outtakes of famous images by celebrated photographers, PDN has launched a new column by the same name. This month's edition focuses on MARY ELLEN MARK and a shoot that produced the cover of her landmark 1993 book, Indian Circus
BY Jane Gottlieb
Photo Editor: Paul Moakley
One of Mary Ellen Mark's signature images happened when an elephant got tired of putting up with ridiculous people.
"I shot several frames that were very similar, and if you look at them, you see how in one the elephant's eye is twisted to the side like he's saying he's had enough," says Mark, of this 1990 photo taken in Ahmedabad, India, home to the Great Golden Circus. It shows a proud trainer and his elephant striking a pose.
Mark recalls that the trainer, Ram Prakash Singh, came up with the idea of getting his elephant, named Shyama, to wrap its trunk around his neck. In fact, the photographer has produced outtakes showing that same trunk coiled around her neck. She says the trunk was like a heavy noose, which was exceedingly uncomfortable.
It's notable then that when it was time for the portrait, the animal, not the man, tired of the exercise first. The sequence suggests that Singh, a mustachioed figure in a swashbuckling frock, was getting into character just as his hairless co‑star was running out of patience. The man locks his gaze on the lens, as the animal's eye wanders back a bit‑the elephantine version of rolling the eyes.
That final image, four‑legged mammal mocking two‑legged, was the clear choice for Mark. She says she recognized her portrait as successful but never expected it to become as famous as it did. Perhaps the biggest fan of all is Singh, who has a proud record of Shyama, now deceased. "He loved it. He was an excited person, and it was in a big magazine. LIFE magazine published the thing," says Mark.