Mark was born and raised in Philadelphia’s Elkins Park in 1940. Her affinity for the human condition in its many forms allowed her to seamlessly interact with a range of cultures and subcultures, from patients at mental institutions at the Oregon State Hospital, to runaway youths, celebrities, clowns and promgoers, the latter subject being published into the 2012 book “Prom” by Getty Publications.
Mark loved street photography and the energy of shooting of-the-moment photos on film, exclaiming in a 1988 interview with Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Michale Martza: “From the very first moment I took pictures [on the streets of Philadelphia], I loved it. 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 in knowing how to use that little machine in front of me – at least better than I used it then. When it’s good and interesting it’s still that feeling of being on the street and wondering — God, I love this! — what’s going to happen next?”
A reoccurring subject throughout much of Mark’s work is children. She photographed them with as much dignity as any other subject. Mark’s seminal work “Street Wise,” which she photographed for Life magazine in 1983 about Seattle’s runaway and homeless youth population, created such fervor that it was transformed into the film “Streetwise,” directed by her husband, Martin Bell.
Mary Ellen Mark was the recipient of numerous awards and accolades throughout her career, including the 2014 Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award from the George Eastman House and the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award from the World Photography Organization. She is survived by her husband.