Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) was a world-renowned photographer and social documentarian with an eye and a soul that captured the brutality of humanity, transforming them into mesmerizing angels

On May 25, 2015 sadness enveloped the world as Mary Ellen Mark passed away.

Through the years, Mary Ellen often came through the Garage Antique Flea Market in New York toting a camera bag on her shoulder with her signature braided ponytails and beaded necklaces. She looked like a hippie. And she traveled like one too. She would disappear and then reappear, sometimes within weeks or months. Like a chameleon, she blended in with the environment at the Garage. She was low-key, affable and warm. She would visit my booth, but I never knew who she was.

Mary Ellen Mark and Daniel Toepfer - Photo by Larry Baumhor

Mary Ellen Mark and Daniel Toepfer – Photo by Larry Baumhor

Mary Ellen purchased many eclectic things at the Garage, from folk art to Mickey Mouse and robot items. She once bought a magnificent huge redware platter. She loved vases in the shape of animals that she put flowers in. It gave an illusion that their mouths were filled with flowers. Mary Ellen would often buy gifts for people, sometimes dog-related. When the Chelsea Flea Market opened, she followed the dealers outside.

Mary Ellen was sometimes on assignments, like when she photographed a women’s mental asylum in Oregon. Or she was off to New Orleans to photograph the devastation and social ramifications of Hurricane Katrina. National Geographic flew Mary Ellen to Sydney Australia to document their immigrant population for a story, “Sydney’s Changing Face.”

She photographed circuses in India, brothels in Bombay, heroin addicts in a London clinic, runaway children in Seattle, portraits of Mother Teresa, and New York street scenes. Mary Ellen documented fashion icons for major magazines and worked on more than 100 movie sets, capturing candid portraits of major movie stars. Wherever she traveled, be it Mexico, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Spain, Greece or Oregon, she connected with her subjects.

Streetwise Revisited - By Mary Ellen Mark

For two months, for example, she lived in a maximum-security women’s mental hospital in Oregon. The relationships she developed with the women translated into a free-spirited trust among the photographer and subjects resulting in a realistic heart-wrenching aesthetic. Mary Ellen was a world-renowned photographer, a social documentarian, with an eye and a soul that often captured the brutality of humanity, transforming them into mesmerizing angels. She had eighteen books published and her photographs were exhibited worldwide.

Here are links to two posthumous exhibitions of Mark’s work:

Howard Greenburg Gallery: ATTITUDE: PORTRAITS BY MARY ELLEN MARK, 1964–2015

Aperture Gallery: Tiny: Streetwise Revisited, photographs by Mary Ellen Mark

Through her photography, Mary Ellen Mark lives with us, touching our feelings, senses and giving us the opportunity for cultures to engage in discussions about the precious gift of life.

Mary Ellen Mark - Photo by Larry Baumhor

Mary Ellen Mark – Photo by Larry Baumhor

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