Remembering Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015)

Mary Ellen Mark, 1960,  Philadlephia
Mary Ellen Mark, 1960, Philadlephia

I was deeply saddened to hear the news yesterday about the passing of Mary Ellen Mark at 75 years of age. Her deeply empathic and insightful photographs of people from all walks of life and many parts of the world will serve as a lasting legacy. As one of the greats within the social humanist tradition, she was in every way a deeply humane and eternally caring person and photographer. She died of a rare blood condition called Myelodysplastic syndrome, which I only know anything about because my wife’s mother, Betty Thompson, had the same condition. Fortunately she was able to live quite well until she died. I hope the same was true for Mary Ellen.

I met Mary Ellen in 1960 when I was teaching at the Annenberg School of Communications in Philadelphia. She was a student at the time, and already a wonderful artist. When I heard the news of her passing yesterday my studio manager went hunting for some contact sheets from a photo shoot I did with her after we became friends. We chose several to scan and share and add to the many photos and remembrances that are sure to follow in the coming days. The two portraits bring out both the light-hearted and serious sides of the 20 year old Mary Ellen. Her vibrant energy was a sign of what was to come in her photography.

She will be sorely missed and greatly appreciated for her ability to give a voice, through her photographs, to the humanity and dignity of those caught up in the web of society’s injustices as well as it’s joys. The beauty of her photographs is a mirror of her own heart. We are all grateful.

Mary Ellen Mark 2, 1960, Philadelphia
Mary Ellen Mark 2, 1960, Philadelphia

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Morgan Fisher

There are some nude photographs that have nothing to do with sex or even art – but with simple honesty, friendship, openness. These are in that very rare category. Thank you for sharing them, you have inspired me once again…

art gunther

Fine portraiture of a remarkable photog.

Musawwir Spiegel

Harold – Thanks for posting this. She was truly a great photographer. I had wondered whether you had known her. The photos you shot of her were beautiful. Musawwir

Allan MacGregor

I, too, was sad to learn about the passing of this great humanist eye! I was similarly saddened by a comment Mary Ellen Mark made in an article a few years ago regarding the fact that the publications she had been featured in no longer seemed interested in her kind of photography. A penetrating, yet loving observation of the human condition will be lost if that is true. I certainly agree with Morgan Fisher’s comments on your photos. Thanks, Harold, for teaching us to look through the eyes of appreciation, as Judith rightly calls them. Allan

Blu Wirisi

Beautiful photographs of MAM. She was a special person. I have always admired her talent and her carrying for others. A beautiful human being.


She was an artist in more ways than one, and it shows in her life’s work.

Jason Gold

I first met Mary Ellen Mark in a wonderful book, shared with Annie Liebowitz. Thru the years, I read as much as possible, getting the books from the wonderful Bensusan Library in Johannesburg. A goal was set as I embarked on my career, in photography, of Concerned Photojournalism and Documentary. Fast forward i moved to Canada, became a true citizen. The internet became a working tool, one could study the greats. Mary was one of these.. Mary Ellen Mark, we all mourn your passing, we rejoice in the memories that You left. We are lucky to have met, maybe not… Read more »

Elaine Mayes

I met Mary Ellen in 1968 in New York. I had just begun my first photo/film teaching job at The University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Jerry Liebling (my senior and colleague) and I had driven to New York for the Christmas holidays. Ralph Gibson, my classmate and friend introduced me to Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen was pretty, small and had generous amounts of positive energy. I saw Mary Elllen many times after that, mostly only casually at parties and photo events we both attended, mostly in SOHO where we both lived. She always greeted me with warmth. She, Julia Scully… Read more »

Brett Rogers

Dear Harold, Thank you so much for sharing your memories of Mary Ellen with us. I’m very sorry that I never managed to meet Mary Ellen personally, because I would sorely have liked to have done so, which means the memories of people such as yourself, who knew her well, are of immense interest to some of us. I’ve adored Mary Ellen’s images ever since my interest in photography intensified years back. The first time I ever saw her work (in “Exposure”, probably) I was smitten, probably for much the same reasons everyone else familiar with it, would be. She… Read more »


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