Even the most veteran of photographers need to update their branding and marketing. Mary Ellen Mark recently did so by redesigning her Web site to make it cleaner and more relevant, as well as iPad friendly.
Written by Jacqueline Tobin
Photographes by Mary Ellen Mark
"Dita Von Teese, New York City, 2006."
"Two boys in Central Park, Harlen, New York, 1968." This image is in the Gallery section of the Website under new York Street Photography: Siler Gelatin.
"Laurie in the bathtub, Oregen State Hospital, Salem, Oregen, 1976," from the Ward 81 project; a note from the printer is produced with the image.
200J-048-24A Another image from the New York Street Photography section, "Jeanette at a carnival, Brooklyn, New York, 1978."
FOR OVER FOUR DECADES, DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHER MARY ELLEN MARK has achieved scuess and fame through her numerous books, exhibitions and editorial work. She doesn't need a Web Site to market her work to clients. However, in December her studio launched her newly designed Web site. The goal was to provide eaiser navigation, regularly updated information-on Mark's workshop and lecture schedules, exhibits- and a way to purchase her books. The intended audience for the new site would include students, clients, print buyers and ardent fans of her work.
Mark's goal for replacing her old Web site was to have a cleaner design that would also be adaptable to the iPad. She also now has a link to her newly built fan page on Facebook, which has posts on her latest ventures and whereabouts. She says she's still holding out on Twitter.
Mark's usband, filmmaker Martin Bell, designed the new site, www.maryellenmark.com, with the help of studio manager Julia Bezgin and library manager Meredith Lue (as well as hundreds of interns Mark has had over the years who helped in building the entire library archive as well as scanning images, entering data, building Web pages and checking the site). According to Lue, the old site was "a lot clunkier and not as sophisticated as the new one is." On the old site, sections were not clearly mapped and the site could not be easily updated. "The old cite was downright Victorian," says Bell. "We had to change it."
Says Bezgin, "We asked ourselves things like, 'What do we want this new site to do and how do we want it to function?' " The trio decided to start over from scratch, doing all of the design themselves. Lue organzied thousands of images and page files, Bezgin designed all of the templates in illustrator, and Bell then implemented everything using Adobe Dreamweaver.
The site is now iPad compatible. "Everything is designed within a frame that doesn't change, so you don't have to worry about adapting it to a certain screen size," Bezgin explains. The window size is fixed, she says. "It's always going to fit, and it's always going to fit with your iPad."
Lue can now update sections often-typically once a week for the home page image; other changes aren't as frequent. "This is especially key for Mary Ellen's Workshops section, since she teaches all over the world and we need to add in dates on a regular basis." Because they're managing everything in-house, it's easy to make changes whenever they want or need,adds Lue, as opposed to using an outside Web designer who might charge for every update. "It allows us to update things that need to be changed, but also allows us tomake changes that aren't as crucial, but make the site more interesting, like changing the homepage image more frequently," Lue says.
Bell says he's been interested to view the traffic statistics on all areas of the site. For instance, the section that gets the most attention is Mark's New York street gallery, all of which was previously unpublished work. Bell regularly tracks the numbers through Google Analytics. "On a daily basis we can see a lot of information of what peopole are looking at, and then we can alter the site to accommodate the way we want them to look at it from that point on," he says. From the time the site launched in early December through February 1, Bell says, "We've had 41,712 visits, and 429,056 page views. With the old site we had no idea of who was looking at what or where they were coming from to look at it."
Bezgin says another area of focus was to have thumbnail index pages that could be easily scanned by category, i.e. "20 X 24 Polariods," "Celebrities," "New York Street Photography: Silver Gelatin," and "ward 81 Printing Notes." You can also click on small images that are layed out like a contact sheet, and click on any one of them to make an image larger. "our basic idea," says Bezgin, "was to use the thumbnails for easy indexing but then also have a showcase page where you can just see one image at a time surrounded by mostly white, with captions-something that is really clean and simple." She says the old site had an index page but the images were displayed in groups of ten, forcing the reader to keep moving through pages to see more images. Each section now has clearer, larger image areas taht are easier and faster to access.
The section of the site titled "Books" contains 17 of Mark's publications which visitors can purchase by clicking on a shopping cart icon that links to either Amazon or the individual publisher's site. Three of the books listed are rare frist editions-Indian Circus, Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay, and Passport- and one is even an Icelandic Language verison of Undraborn: Extraordinary Child. (The rare books link takes visitors to the Mary Ellen Mark store, which is also a section on maryellenmark.com). "This site is fantastic for Mary Ellen in that it has really allowed us to get so much of her work out there," says Bell. "The site itself has over 2,000 of Mary Ellen's photos represented and makes items much more readily accessible than before."
For example, if you click on the Twinscover in the Books section, you can go to a page showing an index of black-and-white thumbnail images from the publication, an introduction about the book from Mark, and a "Conversations with Subjects" area.
A click on the cover of Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay leads to 31 color images from that book, a preface, introduction, captions, acknowledgements and afterword. "Even ifyou don't buy for the work and can read a big of the back story in Mary Ellen's own words."
One area Mark and Bell are most proud of is "ward 81 Printing Notes." Scanned index cards display notations that Mark's printer for Ward 81, imagesfor that 1979 book and exhibit. Bell explains that notations on each card (viewable when you click on each thumbnail in the gallery) explain how Gordon planned to makeeach final print. It's the kind of information that's appealing to photo students and Mark's fans alike. "it's a unique look at the Ward 81 project," says Bell,"giving insight to how it evolved and the care taken in creating the book and exhibition."
Bell adds that care and consideration went into giving the site a look appropriate to Mark's style and appeal. "We didn't need any heavy graphics or gimmicks," says Bell. "That was the brilliant thing; that Julia brought to this a real simplicity in her designs. The site is very deceptive in a way, though, because there is so much information mapped out yet it all still looks so clean, simple and navigable, and not at all Victorian."