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Mary Ellen Mark: Circuses and Prostitutes

Whether prostitutes in Bombay, homeless teenagers in Seattle or circus performers in Vietnam, Mary Ellen Mark’s (b.1940) images have excelled at recording the lives of people on the margins of society in a dramatic and visually compelling way. Mark's images resonate with emotional and psychological force. They are rooted in reality, and many of them record the faces behind social issues.

In her twenties, Mark travelled throughout Turkey and the rest of Europe on a Fulbright scholarship, taking pictures wherever she went. Themes and qualities that continue in Mark’s work today were already present in those early pictures. A photograph of a girl on a street in Trabzon, Turkey exemplifies a key theme in Mark’s work: children trying to act like adults.

Beautiful Emine Posing, Trabzon, Turkey 1965 via www.maryellenmark.com
The man who won the moustache contest, Istanbul, Turkey 1965 via www.maryellenmark.com

In 1967 Mark’s career took another direction when she was hired to shoot production stills. Mark’s film work too has produced memorable images. Her shot of Federico Fellini directing Satyricon is an excellent example.

Federico Fellini on the Set of Satyricon, Rome, Italy, 1969 via www.maryellenmark.com

In 1968 Mark made her first trip to India, where she would return frequently and visit Bombay’s Falkland Road; a street lined with brothels. Although Mark prefers to work in black and white, for the Falkland Road project, her editors insisted that she photograph in colour. The assignment was a technical challenge, but the intense colours of the rooms and the women’s saris give Mark’s pictures an electric vividness.

Falkland Road, Bombay, India via www.maryellenmark.com

In Mexico and Vietnam as well as India, Mark has photographed circus performers and animal acts. Both in the ring and behind the scenes, she presents the performers as ordinary people who do extraordinary things – a parallel which runs evenly throughout her work.

Performing Dogs, National Circus of Vietnam, Lenin Park, Hanoi, Vietnam, 1994 via www.maryellenmark.com
Hippopotamus and Performer. Great Rayman Circus, Madras, India 1989 via www.maryellenmark.com
Boy with his pet cockatoo, Great Golden Circus, Ahmedabad, India 1989 via www.maryellenmark.com
Acrobats Rehearsing, Great Bombay Circus, Limbdi, India via www.maryellenmark.com
Three Acrobats, Vasquez Brothers Circus, Mexico City, Mexico via www.maryellenmark.com
Marina Campa as Batman’s Grandmother, Kimberly Crown Circus, Mexico City, Mexico via www.maryellenmark.com

Text based on an essay by Charles Hagen.

written by webo29


  1. emilios


    love the photos!

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  2. clownshoes


    Great one

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  3. laurasulilly


    Great pictures! I love B&W but I'm always struggling a little with contrast so these images are really off the hook

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  4. 12_12



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  5. britterzb


    Her work is amazing!

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  6. fototattoo


    it was my pleasure working with Mary Ellen on one of the projects..her energy is like a young kid !! Just Amazing !!

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  7. calfaroz



    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  8. timesvelocity


    when i met her i told her i liked her voice. she did a lecture circa january 2009 in Austin.
    over 3 years ago · report as spam

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Deutsch.