Photographer Mary Ellen Mark

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The photographer Mary Ellen Mark insists that “reality is always extraordinary.” For more than forty years, she has been focusing her lens on the gritty, and often unattractive reality of people who inhabit the seamier side of society. Her first in-depth project took her to the Oregon State Mental Hospital where she spent more than a month living with female inmates.

Her decision to immerse herself in her subject matter is a trademark of her work. Whether it is the red light district of Bombay, or working with street kids in Seattle, or a homeless family in Los Angeles, Mark captures the intimate, the disturbing and the unexpected on film.

But Mark says that our interest in these picture is disappearing. All we want, she says, are the glossy, celebrity shots.


Photographer Mary Ellen Mark. A new retrospective of her work by Phaidon Books is called “Exposure.”