Mary Ellen Mark: Renowned documentary photographer dies aged 75

Mark was known for her unflinching look at the lives of her subjects

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The celebrated documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark passed away on Monday, aged 75.

Her close friend Kelly Cutrone confirmed on Wednesday Mark died in a New York hospital from a blood illness caused by bone marrow failure, the Associated Press reports.

Mark became recognised for approaching challenging subjects in her photographs during a career spanning almost five decades. The focus of her images varied throughout her life and moved from prostitutes, street children, heroin addicts and life in psychiatric institutions to capturing celebrities, cheerleaders and even members of the Ku Klux Klan.

She was praised for the humanism and compassion she conveyed in her photographs, which took an unflinching look at the daily struggles endured by her subjects.

Among her most famous was a collection of photographs in her book Streetwise. The book documented the life of Tiny Blackwell, a Seattle prostitute and drug addict Mark met in the 1980s when Tiny was 13. A book following Tiny's life over decades entitled Tiny: Streetwise Revisited, is due to be published.

Mark cared for the people she photographed, especially the children, and described wanting to meet them again throughout her career in an interview with The Telegraph in 1995. “I love them, I care about them, I want to know how they're doing, I want to photograph them again,” she explained.

Born in Philadelphia, Mark moved to Seattle in order to highlight how ingrained social and economic issues are in all aspects of society.

In the preface to her book, she wrote: "By choosing America's ideal city we were making the point: 'If street kids exist in a city like Seattle then they can be found everywhere in America, and we are therefore facing a major social problem of runaways in this country.'"

She published 18 books in her lifetime and her photos appeared in Life, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, among other publications. Mark also shot film stills and worked as a production portraitist during her lifetime, capturing "some of the most revealing photos ever taken" of stars including Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp.

She was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Photography award at the Sony World Photography Awards in 2014.

Mark is survived by her husband, the filmmaker Martin Bell.