|Mary Ellen Mark|
Mark with husband Martin Bell at the 2011 Look 3 photography conference
March 20, 1940|
Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, US
|Died||May 25, 2015
New York City, New York, US
What you look for in a picture is a metaphor, something that means something more, that makes you think about things you've seen or thought about.
I think photography is closest to writing, not painting. It's closest to writing because you are using this machine to convey an idea. The image shouldn't need a caption; it should already convey an idea.
I've always been fascinated by twins. In my forty years of photographing, whenever there was an opportunity, I would take a picture of twins. I found the notion that two people could appear to look exactly alike very compelling.
I knew from the first moment I picked up a camera, on my first school assignment, what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was going to find a way to travel the world and tell the stories of the people I met through photographs.
I'm just interested in people on the edges. I feel an affinity for people who haven't had the best breaks in society. I'm always on their side. I find them more human, maybe. What I want to do more than anything is acknowledge their existence.
I saw that my camera gave me a sense of connection with others that I never had before. It allowed me to enter lives, satisfying a curiosity that was always there but that was never explored before.
What I'm trying to do is make photographs that are universally understood… that cross cultural lines. I want my photographs to be about the basic emotions and feelings that we all experience.
I have an incredible relationship with dogs. I'm kind of a dog-whisperer.
I work in colour sometimes, but I guess the images I most connect to, historically speaking, are in black and white. I see more in black and white – I like the abstraction of it.
I don't see how a woman in documentary photography could have children. I think it's a very difficult thing to do to raise a family, and I have enormous respect for people who do it. I'd hate to do something like that and not be good at it.
Nowadays shots are created in post-production, on computers. It's not really photography.
I was something of a problem kid. I was emotional, wild, rebellious at school. I'm very touched by kids who don't have advantages; they are much more interesting than kids who have everything. They have a lot of passion and emotion, such a strong will.
I really knew when I started photographing I wanted it to be a way of knowing different cultures, not just in other countries but in this country, too, and I knew I wanted to be a voyeur.
When you're working on a film, it's almost like photographing paintings at a museum. You're photographing somebody else's world. I just try and interpret it and make it real, and make it what the actors are about, what the director is about, and what the film is about.
I'm staying with film, and with silver prints, and no Photoshop. That's the way I learned photography: You make your picture in the camera. Now, so much is made in the computer… I'm not anti-digital; I just think, for me, film works better.
I could spend my whole life photographing circuses. They combine everything I'm interested in – they're ironic, poetic, and corny at the same time. There's also something about a circus that's magical, sentimental, and almost tragic, like a Fellini film.
I love dogs. I absolutely adore them. When I'm teaching in Mexico, I rescue dogs from the streets and make my students adopt them.
Sometimes I work on film sets. I've done this for 40 years. I always wanted to photograph on the set of an Ingmar Bergman film. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity.
I respect newspapers, but the reality is that magazine 'photojournalism' is finished. They want illustrations, Photoshopped pictures of movie stars.
I'm a documentary photographer. That's what I've always wanted to be; that's where my heart and soul is.
I don't like to photograph children as children. I like to see them as adults, as who they really are. I'm always looking for the side of who they might become.
It's good that everyone has an opportunity to take pictures, the chance to be a photographer. Some are good, too. But the bad thing is that it's very, very difficult to take a great picture. Everyone can take a good picture – even a child – but it's hard to make a great one.
I love to photograph people in their own environment. It offers clues to what's important in their lives.
I would die if I had to be confined. I don't want to feel that I'm missing out on experiencing as much as I can. For me, experiencing is knowing people all over the world and being able to photograph.
I'm not against digital photography. It's great for newspapers. And there are photographers doing great work digitally. When they use Photoshop as a darkroom tool, that's fine, too. But at this point of my life, after so many years, I don't really want to change, and I still love film.
The obsessions we have are pretty much the same our whole lives. Mine are people, the human condition, life.
I'm not much for cats. I'm terrified of mice. I've worked a lot with elephants, and they are extremely intelligent and sensitive, and thankfully, they seem to like me. You never want to get on the bad side of an elephant. And never trust a chimp.
I was thinking about how fleeting and precious life is. Life is also arbitrary. For example, the choices that you make, the luck of being born into the right bed, to parents who support and help you and who love you. That doesn't always happen – and then, what happens when it doesn't?
In 1965, I was in Trabzon in eastern Turkey on a Fulbright scholarship. I would get up every morning and walk around the streets and look for photographs.
Photograph the world as it is. Nothing's more interesting than reality.
One of my all-time favorite photographers is Irving Penn. I wish I could have watched him work.
I just think it's important to be direct and honest with people about why you're photographing them and what you're doing. After all, you are taking some of their soul.
In every successful still photographic project that I have completed, there has always been a turning point in the story where I felt that perhaps I was working on something that could be very special.
Usually my ideas for work have revolved around my interest in people, especially people that live on the edges of society.
When I started out, it was considered very wrong to change an image. There were scandals if someone inserted a sky into a war picture or something. Now it's all about that.
Looking at my own prom photograph reminds me of how significant that moment was – and how fleeting life is.
During prom season, I travel around the country with a 20-by-24 camera – which is logistically complicated – and photograph proms. My husband made a film of it.
I always think, 'What does this picture mean? What's the best place to put my camera? Do I have anything extra in the picture, things in the background that will distract? Am I in the basic position that will give the essential things for this picture but not too much?'
If I hadn't become a photographer, I would have loved to become a doctor. I would have loved to have done something that actually helped people and changed their lives.
I don't like gimmicky pictures; I've always hated them. I like pictures that are very clear and clean, whether you're a great street photographer – somebody like Friedlander or Winogrand or Cartier-Bresson – or whether you're a portraitist, like Irving Penn.
If I'm in an unusual or extreme social environment, I always want to know what it's like to grow up there and experience it as normal, everyday life. And I want to know what sort of adults these children are going to turn into.
I realized all of the possibilities that could exist for me with my camera: all of the images that I could capture, all of the lives I could enter, all of the people I could meet and how much I could learn from them.
I don't relax. I can't take vacations. I'm obsessive-compulsive, and I worry with every project that I'm going to fail. When it starts to go well, and I sense that something beautiful and important and meaningful is being created, it's a fantastic feeling, and I find it very hard to stop.
A lot of people who don't have anything collect dogs; it's kind of a symbol of having something.
I think the prom is very serious also. It's an American ritual, it's a rite of passage, and it's very much a part of this country.
I remember the first time I went out on the street to shoot pictures. I was in downtown Philadelphia, and I just took a walk and started making contact with people and photographing them, and I thought, 'I love this. This is what I want to do forever.' There was never another question.
I wanted to travel from the beginning. As a kid, I used to dream about airplanes, before I ever flew in one.
Every photograph is the photographer's opinion about something. It's how they feel about something: what they think is horrible, tragic, funny.
There are some people who become best friends with everyone they photograph. There are people that I really like and admire and respect, but in a way I think it's better to keep a distance. I think you get better pictures of people that you don't know very well.
I'm a street photographer, but I'm interested in any ironic, whimsical images, and there's something very romantic about a circus.
As a kid, I used to dream about airplanes before I ever flew in one. I really knew, when I started photographing, I wanted it to be a way of knowing different cultures, not just in other countries but in this country, too, and I knew I wanted to enter other lives. I knew I wanted to be a voyeur.
I'm most interested in finding the strangeness and irony in reality. That's my forte.
I've always been interested in photographing traditions and customs – especially in America. The prom is an American tradition, a rite of passage that has always been one of the most important rituals of American youth. It is a day in our lives that we never forget – a day full of hopes and dreams for our future.