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.