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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The Gender Show Opens

Posted by on Jun 12 2013 | Exhibitions, Photography

HILLER

LEJAREN À HILLER (1950) Naval officer and young man on hillside with binoculars, overlooking battleship in bay below Color print, assembly (Carbro) process © Visual Studies Workshop / Image courtesy of George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film

Director’s Note – Since before Marcel Duchamp photographed Rrose Sélavy, his female alter ego, artists have used photography to explore issues of identity, sex, and gender. In recent decades, gender has been an increasingly prominent theme within contemporary art and, specifically, within photography. The Gender Show (on view through October 13) offers an extraordinary opportunity to see fifty contemporary artworks in the context of over 150 photographs from our worldclass collection.

The exhibition includes, on loan from artists and private collectors, a formidable set of photographs by prominent contemporary artists Janine Antoni (born 1964), Rineke Dijkstra (1959), Marilyn Minter (1948), Catherine Opie (1961), and Gillian Wearing (1963). Works by each of these artists have been exhibited extensively at leading museums, but this is the first time that any of their works has been shown at Eastman House.

Debbie Grossman (American, b. 1977) Jessie Evans-Whinery, homesteader, with her wife Edith Evans-Whinery and their baby 2010 From the series My Pie Town Archival pigment print ©Debbie Grossman, Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York

The exhibition also includes ten photographs on loan from our trustee Elaine Goldman; gender issues are one of the themes in her wonderful collection. Also featured are videos by artists Jen DeNike (1971), Kalup Linzy (1977), and Martha Rosler (1943). In our Annex Gallery, we present sixteen photographs, on loan from artist Debbie Grossman (1977), from her recent My Pie Town series, in which she used Photoshop to manipulate a set of images of Pie Town, New Mexico, originally taken by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration in 1940.

The Gender Show, part of our ongoing program of major exhibitions from our permanent collection, is a survey of how photographs since the mid-nineteenth century have presented gender, with a special emphasis on the performances that the act of photographing or being photographed can encourage or capture. On view from our collection are photographs by many of the biggest names in the history of the medium—including Julia Margaret Cameron, August Sander, Edward Steichen, Nickolas Muray, Brassaï, Robert Frank, Andy Warhol, Barbara Norfleet, Mary Ellen Mark, and Cindy Sherman—as well as rarely seen cabinet cards depicting early vaudeville and music-hall stars.

thegendershow

In 1979, art scholar and critic Douglas Crimp (now the Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester) included photographer Cindy Sherman among the emerging artists covered in his article “Pictures” in the influential art journal October. This article was a landmark in the contemporary art world’s embrace of photography as an artistic medium. In the ensuing years, young artists increasingly adopted photography as part of their artistic practice. Unfortunately, there has been an abiding separation between “contemporary photographers” and “contemporary artists” whose artistic practice is primarily or in part in the medium of photography. This artificial segregation has had a long-term adverse impact on exhibition programs and collection building at every one of the American museums with a leading photography collection, including George Eastman House. Our exhibition places works by contemporary artists in a broader context, illuminating art historical, aesthetic, and social issues and celebrating the diversity of inquiries into gender.

The first exhibition organized under my direction, The Gender Show represents a commitment by George Eastman House to exhibit and collect photographs by those in the contemporary art world. Photography is one of the most important media in contemporary art. Our world-class collection of photographs must include great examples of work by contemporary artists. The core exhibition of works from our permanent collection is curated by Senior Curator Alison Nordström and Assistant Curator Jessica Johnston. Additionally, Jessica chose the photographs kindly lent by Elaine Goldman. I had the pleasure of selecting the other contemporary artworks from outside of our collection. We hope that you enjoy the results of our collaboration.

More works from The Gender Show can be viewed on Artsy.

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Mary Ellen Mark and 60 from the 60s

Posted by on Oct 03 2012 | Other

Next week we’ll be opening our new exhibit 60 from the 60s“. Our assistant curator of photographs, Jamie Allen was able to spend some time talking with documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark about her career and work. Mark’s work is included in our new exhibit – along with work from Harry Callahan, Benedict J. Fernandez, Hollis Frampton, Betty Hahn, Robert Heinecken, Roger Mertin, Arnold Newman, Aaron Siskind, and Garry Winogrand.

60 from the 60s opens this weekend.

 

 

 

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