Unpacking the visible legacy of Mary Ellen Mark

"I haven't had the happiest life at home or the happiest childhood. I think that gave me a sense of justice and passion for people who don't all have breaks," said photographer Mary Ellen Mark in an interview with Swedish broadcaster SVT in 2010.

Beginning in the 1960s, Pennsylvania-born documentary photography quickly became known for its raw and provocative images of the people she met on her travels, many of whom lived on the margins of society.

The intimacy and empathy exuded by Mark's work was no accident: She gained a reputation for immersing herself in the realities of the worlds she documented – from sex workers in Mumbai to street children in Seattle.

Top: Laurie in the bathtub of Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, 182 Salem, Oregon, 1976. Top: Amanda and her cousin Amy, Valdese, North Carolina, 1990. All images © The Book of Everything by Martin Bell, edited by SteidlRat and Mike with a gun, Seattle, 1983

When Mark passed away in 2015 at the age of 75, she left an incredible visual legacy after filming for publications like The New Yorker and creating production stills for Hollywood blockbusters like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Apocalypse Now.

She also worked regularly with her husband, film director Martin Bell, particularly the 1984 film Streetwise, which followed a group of teenagers on the fringes of Seattle society.

After Mark's death, Bell began putting her life's work in one place, skimming the two million contact sheets and chrome pieces she'd collected over the course of her five decades of career.

Crissy, Jesse, Linda, 152 and Dean Damm in their car, Los Angeles, 1987Federico Fellini on the set of Satyricon, Rome, Italy, 1969

Five years later, Bell published The Book of Everything, an 880-page volume of the Imagemaker's most famous images and previously unpublished material.

In addition to Mark's photos, there are memories from friends, colleagues, and many of those she has photographed over the years. They offer an insight into the photographer's thoughts on the subjects that she has portrayed so beautifully for half a century.

Mary Ellen Mark: The book of everything is published by Steidl


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