In Memoriam: Mary Ellen Mark, 1940–2015

Posted by on Jun 04 2015 | Photography

“I want to be a voice for the unfamous people. Those are the people who interest me. Whether it’s a guy in Miami Beach who goes to a dance or it’s someone who’s dying in Ethiopia, they’re the unfamous people that I care about. I feel a certain purity in them that’s real, and I want to document their lives.” – Mary Ellen Mark

On May 25, Mary Ellen Mark, one of the most talented documentary photographers of her generation and one of the world’s warmest, most generous human beings, passed away.

Mark began making photographs in 1962 while a graduate student in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. After earning her degree, she spent 1965 traveling in Turkey on a Fulbright scholarship and then continued photographing throughout Europe for another two years. The pictures from this journey, published in the 1974 book Passport, launched her career. For the next forty years, her penetrating images of ordinary people in diverse, often challenging, circumstances earned her the respect of her peers and the admiration of international audiences.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Mother Teresa at the Home for the Dying, Mother Teresa's Missions of Charity, Calcutta, India, 1980.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Mother Teresa at the Home for the Dying, Mother Teresa’s Missions of Charity, Calcutta, India, 1980.

She photographed the beneficiaries of Mother Teresa’s Missions of Charity in India, runaway teenagers in Seattle, patients in an Oregon mental institution, homeless families living in New York State shelters, disabled children in Iceland, and American high school students at prom. Her approach was profoundly humanist, emphasizing the emotional bonds that tie people together without resorting to sentimentality.

Mark was tough yet compassionate, endlessly curious yet single-mindedly driven when it came to her photography. This combination of traits allowed her to establish the distinctive rapport with her subjects that suffuses all of her images. Her relationships with the people she photographed often continued well beyond a project’s completion.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Laurie in the Ward 81 Tub, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon, 1976. From the series Ward 81.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Laurie in the Ward 81 Tub, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon, 1976. From the series Ward 81.

Mark’s dedication—the result of her desire “to let my photographs be a voice for people who have less of an opportunity to speak for themselves”—produced a tremendous body of work, which is chronicled in more than fifteen books and hundreds of magazine essays.

George Eastman House has long recognized her achievements; the museum presented her first retrospective exhibition in 1991, Mary Ellen Mark: 25 Years, which traveled to twelve venues in the United States and abroad. The museum, which holds 150 of her photographs in its collection, also honored Mark with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Tiny, Seattle, 1983. From the series Streetwise. Gelatin silver print, printed 1988.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Tiny, Seattle, 1983. From the series Streetwise.

My own appreciation for her work began when I first encountered her photographs of Tiny in Streetwise and then discovered Ward 81. Profoundly moving and without a trace of the cloying mawkishness found in the work of less accomplished photographers, these two bodies of work lodged themselves in my memory and, I think, permanently changed my worldview. I struggle to think of any other photographer who so poignantly captures human vulnerability while circumventing—seemingly effortlessly—the dangerous terrain of exploitation. Mary Ellen Mark’s unique combination of eye and heart will be sorely missed.

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Our Erie Canal tintype excursion

Posted by on Aug 16 2013 | Photography

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Eastman house restores lost Orson Welles film

Posted by on Aug 07 2013 | Motion Pictures

A very exciting day for Eastman House, National Film Preservation Foundation, the Cineteca del Friuli and Cinemazero.

A long lost film…found. It’s 35mm, it’s nitrate, it’s slapstick. Too Much Johnson.

Our very own Tony Delgrosso, Head of Preservation and Daniela Currò, Preservation Officer in the Motion Picture Department discuss their experience:


“Holding in one’s hands the very same print that had been personally edited by Orson Welles 75 years ago provokes an emotion that’s just impossible to describe.”
Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator of Film, George Eastman House

To find out more, and ticketing information for the U.S. premiere of Too Much Johnson, visit


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75 years – The Super Kodak Six-20

Posted by on Jul 17 2013 | Photography


Super Kodak Six-20, 1938, Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, New York. Gift of Eastman Kodak Company

July 2013 marks the 75th anniversary of the Super Kodak Six-20, the first production camera to feature automatic exposure (AE) control. Aimed at removing the exposure guesswork for photographers, the camera’s shutter-preferred AE control meant that the photographer chose the shutter speed and the camera would then “choose” the correct lens opening. Kodak’s engineers accomplished this feat by mechanically coupling a selenium photo cell light meter, located just above the top half of the camera’s folding clamshell.

This advancement, though groundbreaking, was not picked up by most camera manufacturers for some twenty years after the debut of the Super Six-20. These days, automatic exposure is a standard feature on almost all cameras. And it is not much of a stretch to call the Super Kodak Six-20 the first “smart camera.”

But auto exposure was not the only cutting-edge feature of the Super Six-20. It was also the first Kodak camera to use a common window for both the rangefinder and viewfinder. The film advances with a single-stroke lever, which also cocks the shutter at the end of the stroke, thus preventing double exposures. And like auto exposure, these features would not become common on cameras for many years.


Features aside, the Super Kodak Six-20 is one of the most attractive cameras ever marketed. Its lovely clamshell exterior design was styled by legendary industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague.

All this innovation came at a rather high price and not without some issues. The Super Kodak Six-20 retailed for $225 in 1938 (that would be over $2,000 today) and it had a reputation for being somewhat unreliable—the built-in self-timer was known to lock up the shutter. Since few models were manufactured, some 719, it is highly sought after by camera collectors.





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20 years of Garden Vibes

Posted by on Jul 16 2013 | House & Gardens

Two shows left! NRBQ July 17 and The Ifs August 14.


Tickets available online or at the gate.




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