9 Mary Ellen Mark Photos That Changed The Way We See The World

by Alexa Salvato

Mary Ellen Mark, the groundbreaking American photojournalist and photographer, passed away in New York in May 2015 due to myelodysplastic syndrome (which affects the bone marrow) at the age of 75.  A consistent theme in Mark’s work was attention to people on the margins, people who wouldn’t usually be in the spotlight and certainly not in such a respectful lens. The subjects were most often women and children. According to Philly.com, her career began when she photographed drug addicts in London in the ‘60s for Look magazine—a gutsy, unglamorous pitch that was all her idea. That trend carried through her career, including her “unflinching yet compassionate depictions of prostitutes in Mumbai, homeless teenagers in Seattle and mental patients in a state institution in Oregon,” the New York Times commented in their obituary yesterday. 

Just as exceptional as her choice of subjects was her passion for the field of photography. She said in a 1988 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer: “From the very first moment I took pictures (on the streets of Philadelphia) I loved it,” she said. “The thrill was the idea of just being on a street, turning a corner and looking for something to see. It was just an amazing feeling. . . . Photography became my obsession. . . . In a way it’s not so different when I go out to work now. It’s just that now I have years of experience…”  Mark’s passion for the excitement of photography never left her, evident in the projects she was still producing up until her death. Check out just a few of her amazing photographs below:

“Amanda, right, and her Cousin Amy in Valdese, N.C., 1990.” Amanda was student at a school for “children with problems” that Mark had gone to photograph. 

From Streetwise, Seattle, Washington, 1983: 

Tiny, the main character in Streewise, a book depicting the lives of runaway teens in Seattle.

“‘Rat’ and Mike with a Gun”

From Falkland Road, Bombay, India, 1978:

“Like most countries, India has fancy brothels and expensive call girls. But the pictures in this book were taken on a street in Bombay where the less expensive prostitutes live and work, an area famous for the cage-like houses in which some of the women live.” –Falkland Road

From A Cry for Help: Stories of Homelessness and Hope, New York, NY, 1996:

Carla and Jake Aragona


Irene Ayala and Enrique Andaverde. This series contains portraits of homeless children and their families living in the H.E.L.P. shelters in New York state. 

From Prom, across the United States, 2012: 

Tim Blackwell and Kelly Hayden, Austin, Texas, 2008

Samantha Toet and Alyssa Smith, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2008

All images via Mary Ellen Mark

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