Mary Ellen Mark: Developing Personal Projects

Spring 2015

Mary Ellen Mark, “Rat” and Mike with a gun, Seattle, Washington, 1983

For this weekend workshop, Mary Ellen Mark invited photographers to her studio to discuss how to develop and sustain their individual personal projects. Mark encouraged participants to share their portfolios not only to receive critical feedback, but also to gain meaningful insight as to which direction they might take their work. She made careful note of each participant’s background, interests, equipment, and, most importantly, objective. Mark proposed individualized suggestions on how they could move forward, telling all the participants, “You have to have a sense of what you’re looking for.”

Alongside her husband and collaborator Martin Bell, Mark offered insights about the technical challenges of facilitating major projects, while sharing selected works from the series Streetwise, Prom, and commissioned works for Novartis. They both emphasized that one must be resourceful and organized to complete a project. As Mark put it, “Work has to be an obsession. What you do has to be an obsession.” The open critique, coupled with Mark and Bell’s insights, helped students understand how they might proceed to achieve the highest potential of their photographic work.

“I learned a lot about the range of people making images today—fascinating.”

“She is a wonderful instructor: really kind, perceptive, articulate, and able to provide valuable feedback about our work and insight to her own.”

“Mary Ellen is incredibly positive and generous.”

—Workshop participants

Mary Ellen Mark has achieved worldwide visibility through her books, exhibitions, and magazine editorial work. She has published photo-essays and portraits in publications such as the New Yorker, LIFE, and the New York Times Magazine. Mark has received several awards, including the Cornell Capa Award; Infinity Award for Photojournalism; Dr. Erich Salomon Award; Sony World Photography Awards Outstanding Contribution to Photography; Victor Hasselblad Cover Award; two Robert F. Kennedy Awards; and the Creative Arts Award Citation for Photography at Brandeis University. She was presented with two honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. She has received three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and is the recipient of the Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation Grant, Walter Annenberg Grant, and John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. She also acted as the associate producer of the major motion picture American Heart (1992), directed by Martin Bell.

 
 
 

 
 
 

Sign up for Aperture's weekly newsletter: