Mary Ellen Mark "Voice of the Fringes" Has Passed

As of May 25th, with the passing of Mary Ellen Mark, the photography world has been grieving. She died of MDS, Myelodysplastic Syndrome; she was 75 years old. Her photography has been featured in diverse publications from Life to Rolling Stone to American Health to Scientific American. Her most notable works included Streetwise, both the book and the documentary, and Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay. While prolific until the very end, her most recent finished product was PROM, a photography tour she did of 13 proms around the United States in 2010.

In Streetwise, the photo essay turned book, Mary Ellen and her husband, Martin Bell, document the lives of Tiny and her friends, a group of street kids in Seattle, “America’s most livable city.” Photographed in black and white, the photos focus on their dynamic youth, contrasted by the backdrop of the derelict streets where they lived. In 2005, Mary Ellen and her husband photographed Tiny once more for Tiny. 35 years old, Tiny reflects on her crack-riddled adolescence and the quiet, clean years of adulthood. At the end of the accompanying interview, Mary Ellen asked Tiny if she was proud of her life. She responded, “I’d be proud to have my friends see that I made it. That I didn’t end up dead, or junkied-out…I am surprised.” This sentiment of “rising above misfortune” is one that Mary Ellen echoes in many of her works. Similarly, in Falkland Road, she captures the melancholy and the vibrancy of the lives of prostitutes in Bombay from 1978-1979.

Recently, in December 2013, Mary Ellen and her husband funded a Kickstarter for STREETWISE: Tiny Revisited, a film project reintroducing one of the most dynamic characters of her book Streetwise. The two will attempt to capture the, “unending and relentless battles of America’s urban poor” by baring all the intimacies of Tiny’s family life. They will also explore the relationship that Mary Ellen and Tiny cultivated, as documentary photographer and muse, over the past 30 years.

Mary Ellen always desired to present the public with images of “people on the fringes,” as she described in ArtNews. Her portrayal of the human experience has been honest and startling, reflecting in the catastrophe of being alive while also praising the accomplishments of living. Today we say goodbye to the woman who has showcased humanity in all of its tragedy, frailty, and splendor.

Photography by Mary Ellen Mark

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