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Influential Photographer Mary Ellen Mark Dies At 75


Mary Ellen Mark captured the lives of street kids, prostitutes, circus performers with her camera. She was one of her generation's leading photographers, known for stark but humane portraits. She died Monday at a hospital in New York City. NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Here's an old NPR recording of Mary Ellen Mark shooting a model in New York City in 1985.


MARY ELLEN MARK: Lower your chin a little bit. Just lower it. Yeah, that's good.

ULABY: That's from an NPR story about Mark's ability to make her subjects comfortable - models, junkies, mental patients, even members of the Ku Klux Klan.


MARK: I mean, I just tend to hang around a lot, and I tend to shoot pictures a lot. And after a while, the novelty wears off.

ULABY: Mark traveled the world on assignment for Life magazine and Look, says Philadelphia Museum of Art curator Peter Barberie.

PETER BARBERIE: Mary Ellen was intrepid. Not only was she willing to go anywhere, she would elbow her way into any situation and would fight to get the best spot.

ULABY: Mark also doggedly stayed in touch with many of her subjects. In 1995, Linda Damm was homeless. Mary Ellen Mark started hanging around with her camera. Damm remembered what that was like on NPR five years later.


LINDA DAMM: You don't feel like you're just a nobody sitting there getting your picture taken, you know? She gets involved in your life.

ULABY: Mark traced her own affinity with outsiders to an experience she'd had as a child.


MARK: I keep thinking back to when I was in grammar school in Philadelphia, and we made a class trip to the local mental hospital, which was called Byberry Hospital. And it had a profound impression on me.

ULABY: Mary Ellen Mark left a profound impression on those who encountered her work. She died from a bone marrow failure disorder. She was 75 years old. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.