Mary Ellen Mark: Encounters

C/O Berlin proudly presents an exhibition featuring the incredible work of Mary Ellen Mark.
The exhibition, titled “Mary Ellen Mark: Encounters,” will run from September 16, 2023, to January 18, 2024. One captivating photograph within this collection portrays an elderly woman sporting oversized circular glasses, her neatly arranged white curls exuding elegance. With a firm grasp on her glass at the bar counter, she shares an enthusiastic kiss with her partner. Although her cigarette has been extinguished, the couple seemingly embraces the notion that the night holds youthful promise. This black and white snapshot encapsulates a lively sense of joy and connection—an instance of encounter, just one of the spontaneous moments captured by Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015).
Hailing from the 1960s, this American documentarian and portraitist championed the cause of those on the fringes of society. Both her personal projects and commissioned works radiated a profound sense of empathy. As a documentary photographer guided by humanist principles, Mark sought out individuals in need or marginalized by society. Her subjects ranged from homeless children in Seattle and the mentally afflicted in Oregon to sex workers in Mumbai. Rather than shy away from their circumstances, she embraced her own visual language to respectfully depict them and chronicle their unique stories. In the realm of socio-critical photography, her contributions are often compared to the likes of W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans.
Growing up during the pinnacle of the women’s rights movement in the United States, Mark naturally directed her lens toward women and girls. Her approach involved immersing herself in their lives for extended periods, creating visual character studies and narratives while preserving the essence of singular defining images. Her involvement often extended beyond the camera, maintaining connections with her subjects even after their photographs were published. This personal connection was a hallmark of her approach.

The “Mary Ellen Mark: Encounters” exhibition showcases five iconic projects she undertook during the 1970s and 1980s. These projects were subsequently compiled into a series of influential photobooks that solidified her reputation. “Ward 81” delves into her documentation of women in a state mental institution in Oregon over several weeks. “Falkland Road” presents a reportage on sex workers in Mumbai. “Mother Teresa’s Missions of Charity” explores both the woman and her mission. “Indian Circus” captures traveling circus families in a series of images. Lastly, her award-winning “Streetwise” project and the follow-up “Tiny: Streetwise Revisited” demonstrate her enduring dedication to recounting the story of Erin Charles, known as Tiny, whom she began photographing as a thirteen-year-old on the streets, and continued documenting her life over the span of three decades.
Mary Ellen Mark is among the most influential photographers in the realm of photojournalism. Her photographic series graced the pages of numerous internationally acclaimed magazines and newspapers, including Time, GEO, Stern, Life, and The New York Times Magazine. Her accolades were abundant, and her work was recognized with numerous awards. Mark also belonged to the generation of photographers who underwent substantial shifts in the landscape of photojournalism and magazine photography during the 1980s. Her career was enriched by her engagement in teaching workshops and capturing portraits of actors, alongside her work as a conventional editorial photographer. She approached the glamorous film world with the same sensitivity and openness that defined her other projects. The retrospective not only encompasses her portraits of actors and notable figures but also unveils series such as “Twins” (2001–02) and “Prom” (2006–09), showcasing the breadth of her photographic portfolio as a documentary and portrait photographer. Her unique images transitioned from magazine spreads to photobooks and, ultimately, exhibition displays.

“Mary Ellen Mark: Encounters” marks the first extensive retrospective of this celebrated photographer’s work on a global scale. Curated by Melissa Harris and Sophia Greiff of the C/O Berlin Foundation in collaboration with The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation—a New York-based repository of the photographer’s work—the exhibition merges well-known and lesser-known prints. It also offers a glimpse into rare archival materials like contact sheets, letters, and notebooks. Accompanying the exhibition is a comprehensive catalogue published by Steidl.

A portrait of Mary Ellen Mark by Jean-Claude Carrière

About the Author

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015) initially pursued painting and art history studies at the University of Pennsylvania before attaining a master’s degree in photojournalism from the Annenberg School for
Communication. Her journey into socially critical narrative photography began in 1963, propelling her onto projects across the globe. She transformed commissions into independent ventures over the years and shared the resulting photographs in renowned publications like Life, People, Vogue, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. These images eventually made their way into over twenty thematic monographs. Mark’s legacy also includes teaching engagements, international fellowships, and prestigious awards for her contributions. She passed away in New York at the age of 75, leaving behind a lasting impact.

Mary Ellen Mark: Encounters
September 16, 2023 – January 18, 2024
C/O Berlin – Berlin – Germany

Hardcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Steidl (December 12, 2023)
Language: English
Weight: 1.74 pounds
ISBN-10: 3969993032
ISBN-13: 978-3969993033

Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?

Create Account