Mary Ellen Mark, legendary photographer, died recently while living in New York City. As you probably know, Ms. Mark specialized in photojournalism, portraiture, documenting the human condition; and more recently, advertising. Her work is iconic--ranging from war protests to portraits for Rolling Stone magazine. She also created a number of monographs, and was the subject many times over for curators and art critics.
I think it was around 2000, that as a photo editor at Health Magazine, I had the honor of assigning her to do a shoot for me in upstate NY about "Babies With Downs Syndrome".
As a teacher at the Academy of Art University, I took my Editorial Photography class to NYC several times on field trips. Mary Ellen graciously hosted us at her studio for a tour on two different occasions. She was always incredibly generous in sharing her knowledge, background and experience with young minds. Case in point: For one of my class assignments back in SF, where I was teaching students the difference between shooting a feature-length story and shooting a department-length story, I wanted to show them what a working professional submits at the end of an assignment. I called on Mary Ellen to see if she'd be willing to FedEx me all of her contact sheets and work prints from the Down's Syndrome story, so the students could cross reference that to an actual manuscript, which I also provided. She happily agreed! For the students, it was such a rare glimpse into the mind of such a sophisticated visual thinker. For a photographer to show outtakes to anyone, even a paying client, is very bold and simply unheard of.
I'm grateful for her willingness to share herself with my students and her collaboration at Health Magazine. The photographic world will undoubtedly miss her caliber of expertise.
Mary Ellen Mark in 2000. Chris Felver/Getty Images