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Mary Ellen Mark, March 20, 1940 - May 25, 2015 by Simon Cardwell

Going slightly off topic today, one of my all time favourite photographers, Mary Ellen Mark died this week in New York at the age of 75. 

I did a workshop with Mary in New York in 2009 & she was very gracious & generous with her time (unlike some other big name photographs I had attended workshops with) & for that I will always be grateful. 

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She was one of the pillars of documentary photography in the 20th century, and while famous for longer term projects such as Twins or Falkland Road she also photographed on many film sets & shot countless magazine covers over the years. 

Some of her best portraits can be viewed here and in her fantastic book Seen Behind The Scene

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She had a unique ability to gain the trust of her subjects very quickly & get intimate work as a result. She took pictures that went straight to your heart. 

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“I don’t like gimmicky pictures; I’ve always hated them,” she told Lens. “I like pictures that are very clear and clean, whether you’re a great street photographer — somebody like Friedlander or Winogrand or Cartier-Bresson — or whether you’re a portraitist, like Irving Penn. Those pictures are very clean and simple. I like things that are real. So I think that some of the best ideas are things that aren’t so complicated.
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As mentioned above I did a workshop with Mary back in 2009, based around the Halloween parade in Manhattan. It only lasted a few days but my memory of her is how she made time to speak to each attendee & gave her time very graciously, everyone was included equally no matter what their level of ability. I received a lovely letter from her a few weeks later & I have always held very fond memories of the experience.