Portfolio Mary Ellen Mark
December 2005
By Brooke Hause
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark is fluttering around her studio in downtown Manhattan looking for the one possession (other than her camera) she can't live without. For more than 30 years, the award‑winning photographer has traveled the world — from the brothels of Bombay to the streets of Seattle — documenting lives on the edges of anonymity. But she also has captured the quieter moments of celebrity as an on‑set witness to the working habits of cinema greats including Fellini and Truffaut, Hepburn and Brando. "My whole idea with movies wasn't so much shooting the scene as it was shooting around the scene:' says Mark, wearing her signature Tiger Lily braids. "Basically, what you're going for is a kind of reality in a very surreal situation.” ‑Brooke Hause

Apocalypse Now / Philippines, 1976 / Marion Brando

'He had these rules: You had to say, Mr. Brando, is it all right if I take your picture?' It was like a game," says Mark, who famously brought a jar of insects to the set, hoping he'd put one on his head. (He did; the dragonfly above was unplanned.) "What was he like? Complex. Unpredictable. But when he decided to let you make pictures of him, it was amazing'

Mississippi Mermaid / Grenoble, France, 1969 / Catherine Deneuve and François Truffaut

"It's about a director and an actress, how they're very much into their own worlds; emotionally, that's what the picture says to me," Mark says. "He was certainly a director who worked with very powerful and beautiful women; you see that just by observing him. She was stunning, so pretty you couldn't stop looking at her.”

Carnal Knowledge / New York City, 1970 / Candice Bergen

"The whole idea was to try and get really good pictures that somehow can last, rather than just another picture of a celebrity," Mark says. "I know Candice really well. We went to college together, so it was really like taking a photograph of a friend. She looks relaxed."

Showgirls/ Hollywood, 1995 / Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley

Pointing to Berkley, Mark laughs and says, "She always had her clothes off. I did get pictures of her topless. It was funny; she'd just be walking around the set naked. I suppose they were so used to having their clothes off it didn't matter, but Gina was more modest:'

On Golden Pond/ New Hampshire, 1981 / Katharine Hepburn

'Honestly, she's the most intimidating actress I've ever had to photograph," Mark says. "It was just her presence. Everyone on set was aware that she was a star. She was very much aware of you taking her picture. Even if you were thinking of being candid, she knew it.”

American Heart/ Seattle, 1991 /Jeff Bridges and Edward Furlong

"I was given free range, but you still have to be careful you're not intrusive," says Mark, whose husband, Martin Bell, directed the film. "I met Jeff through this, but we'd become friends by this time. We had photography in common. He brought his camera on set and took some great pictures.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest / Salem, Oregon, 1975 / cast

“[Cuckoo's Nest] was filmed in the Oregon State Hospital. Some of the patients helped out in production, so it was a very surreal atmosphere. The actors looked more like patients — especially Danny DeVito!" Mark says. "Jack [Nicholson] was already a star. Jack is Jack. Very intense and alive.”

Sleepy Hollow/ London, 1999 /Johnny Depp

"I've been on a lot of Tim Burton's sets: Planet of the Apes, Big Fish. It's always a nurturing, creative set. Tim and [Johnny] have a special relationship,” Mark says. “Johnny's beautiful. He's a very inventive and gifted actor. I don't know whether he even knew I took that. I just saw it and shot it.”

Rumble Fish / Tulsa, 1983 / Francis Ford Coppola and Diane Lane

"Coppola's easy to work around. I hate to use the word vibe but he creates a really great... aura. He's a warm and giving man,” Mark says. "In that film there were tons of young actors: Nic Cage, Sean Penn's brother [Chris]. He's good with actors of all ages, very encouraging and helpful."