Mary Ellen Mark: Star Photographer Dies At Age 75

Mary Ellen Mark, star photographer, died at the age of 75.

Philly reports that the legendary photographer, known for her humanist photography, passed away on Monday, May 25, in New York City.

Mark’s passion was capturing the essence of society, from circus performers and celebrities, to teenagers and families living in poverty. She loved photographing the human condition in its many forms, and her intriguing photos led to the publication of 18 books, including her most recent Prom, which included over 300 portraits taken across the country of teens attending the most anticipated event of their high school careers.

“I like things that are real,” Mark told The New York Times during a 2012 interview. “I don’t like gimmicky pictures. I have 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. Those pictures are very clean and simple. I like things that are real. So I think some of the best ideas are things that aren’t so complicated.”

“I think that’s what’s happened in photography now, which is too bad,” she continued. “Everything becomes overdone and overcomplicated and over-retouched. You know? There’s no retouching in these pictures at all. It’s all by light. You don’t need to retouch if you know how to light.”

Mark was born on March 20, 1940 and raised in Elkins Park. She graduated from Cheltenham High School, where she was head cheerleader, and in 1962 she graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in art history and painting from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master’s in photojournalism in 1964 from Penn’s Annenberg School of Communication.

Mary Ellen got her big break as a photographer after landing a job with a Penn alumni magazine where she would later go to London to photograph their drug clinics.

“From the very first moment I took pictures [on the streets of Philadelphia], I loved it,” Mark told the Inquirer’s Michael Matza in 1988. “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?”

Her work has been featured in countless exhibits, and in 2014, Mary Ellen received the Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award from George Eastman House.

[Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images, Andrew Toth/Getty Images]