It’s not every day you get to hang out with a living legend of the photographic world and watch her do what she does best. That’s exactly what we were fortunate enough to do when we spent a day in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park with an icon of documentary photography, Mary Ellen Mark.
Mark likes to return to places she’s shot before, which gives her perspective, she feels. Shooting new subjects in familiar locations, along with people she’s shot before, populate her work with both a continuity and the hallmark of time. While at the park, it was clear dog owners knew her, and had been photographed by the iconic shooter in the past. She knew several of their pets by name.
We also spent a day in her Soho studio discussing photography. When a photographer with Mark’s experience and accolades shares her thoughts on the art, shooters take notice. I had previously written an exhaustive piece on Mark’s career for the Mamiya blog. This time was different.
Not interested in rehashing the past or discussing gear in great detail, Mark was interested in speaking about what makes an iconic image—one that transcends language, borders, and time. She also gave us her thoughts on the state of documentary photography today, and how it has changed over the course of her career. Perhaps most importantly, she tells young shooters interested in becoming documentary photographers about the difficulties of the current marketplace, but stresses what ultimately matters. “If you really want to do it, then you must do it because you’ll never forgive yourself for not doing something you cared about or believed in,” she says.
During our two days with her, Mary Ellen Mark shot a Mamiya 7 II camera with a 55mm and 65mm lens. She used Kodak Tri-X 400 film. Her lighting was provided by a Profoto AcuteB 600 Air and an AcuteB Head. She also used a Profoto Zoom Reflector.
Written by Ron Egatz
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