402J 043 03A, 10/14/04, 3:22 PM, 16G, 5088x7328 (415+335), 100%, Eakins, 1/120 s, R62.1, G45.6, B68.5
Girl jumping over a wall in Central Park. New York, 1967.  Mary Ellen Mark

Charles Harbutt: 'Mary Ellen Mark Wanted Her Work to Count'

May 29, 2015

Mary Ellen Mark's long-time friend and colleague, the American photographer and former Magnum Photos president Charles Harbutt talks to TIME about Mark's dedication to photography.

I first met Mary Ellen when she applied to join Magnum, the international photographers' coop. At the time we were trying slowly to rebuild after losing three founding members. Mary Ellen and her pictures were a perfect fit: as elegant as Inge Morath and as intrepid a journalist as Eve Arnold. We've been friends ever since.

Mary Ellen considered herself a portraitist, but her pictures were not just the famous. She wanted her work to count, to be about important things in our world, things we should pay attention to. Ultimately, I think her prime theme was the situation for women in our tired old world: Ward 81 a woman's ward in an asylum, girl prostitutes in Bombay, Tiny (a lifelong project), a homeless child/woman, Mother Theresa, high school Proms, even the Indian circuses, all talk about life and death in our world.

Mary Ellen was physically brave. Covering the 1968 convention in Chicago, by day she was in the midst of the police breaking up the protesters then, at night, elegantly dressed on the Convention floor being leered at by the male delegates.

A week or so ago, we were talking and she said she hated the new academic work over-Photoshoped perfection, "life without the zits and pimples" she said. For herself she wanted to run into the wall, maybe with a little 'shopping, to die working. Sadly she did.

Charles Harbutt is an American photographer and an associate professor at Parsons, the New School for Design.

Tiny in her Halloween costume, Seattle, Washington, 1983
Tiny in her Halloween costume. Seattle, 1983.Mary Ellen Mark
Tiny in her Halloween costume, Seattle, Washington, 1983
"Rat" and Mike with a gun, Seattle, Washington, 1983
Mona, Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon, USA, 1976
Laurie, Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon, USA, 1976
Kamla behind Curtains with a Customer, Falkland Road, Bombay, India, 1978
Cages. Madam: "Cage girls are the lowest - they only charge two rupees." (Seven rupees equals one dollar.)
Water Exercise Group, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA, 1986
Federico Fellini on the Set of Satyricon, Rome, Italy, 1969
Christina Ricci in her dressing room, Sleepy Hollow, Shepperton Studios, England, 1999
Arjun with His Chimpanzee Mira, Great Royal Circus, Gujarat, India 1989
Acrobat Sleeping. Famous Circus, Calcutta, India 1989
Ram Prakash Singh with His Elephant Shyama, Great Golden Circus, Ahmedabad, India 1990
The Damm Family in Their Car, Los Angeles, California, USA 1987
Chrissy Damm and Adam Johnson, Llano, California, 1994
Amanda and her cousin Amy, Valdese, North Carolina, USA, 1990
Mother Teresa at the home for the Dying, Mother Teresa's Missions of Charity, Calcutta, India, 1980
402J 043 03A, 10/14/04, 3:22 PM, 16G, 5088x7328 (415+335), 100%, Eakins, 1/120 s, R62.1, G45.6, B68.5
Beautiful Emine posing, Trabzon, Turkey, 1965
Ned and Fred Mitchell, Twinsburg, Ohio 2001
Heather and Kelsey Dietrick, Twinsburg, Ohio 2002
Tottenville Prom: 411F-POL-121Manhattan, New York, USA 2006
MSKCC Pediatric Prom: 413S-POL-131Manhattan, New York, USA 2009
Tiny in her Halloween costume. Seattle, 1983.
Mary Ellen Mark
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