From the prostitutes of Bombay to artistic luminaries like Federico Fellini and Luis Buñuel, the black-and-white portraits of Mary Ellen Mark FA’62 ASC’64 Hon’94 showcase an impressive range of humanity. On an unseasonably cold March evening, Mark warmed an audience at the Annenberg School with anecdotes drawn from her career capturing these often eccentric characters. The George Gerbner Lecture in Communication provided the occasion for her return to campus—where last November she had been honored with the Creative Spirit Award at the annual Alumni Award of Merit Gala.
Although many of her most iconic photographs tackle serious and occasionally disturbing themes—at one point she recounted having to report a possible and ultimately confirmed case of a child being sexually abused— Mark peppered her talk with amusing quips. Displaying a photo of Clayton Moore clad only in under wear and his trademark Lone Ranger mask, she dryly noted,
“I didn’t tell him to dress like that; he answered the door like that.”
Mark, whose work has appeared in publications like The New Yorker and Life—as well as a certain alumni magazine—also provided a sharp-tongued assessment of contemporary magazines.
If you look at the magazines now, there are so few that are worth looking at. Actually the most interesting pictures are usually the ads. They’ve taken over … There’s no more reality. Everything is Photoshopped. You see a group photo and people are Photoshopped in there.
I used to always look at magazines because I wanted to look at how photographers that I admired used lighting, because that was always interesting to me. But there’s no more lighting now; it’s all in post-production. It’s not done by the photographer anymore. The artist is the post-production person.
I remember when I first started that it was considered horrible if anybody altered the sky of the photograph. It was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s dishonest!” And there were scandals because of it. Now, you just expect everything to be altered.
I hate these group pictures so much. I just hate them. It’s just group picture after group picture after group picture of people inserted in there. And they’re awful. And boring. That’s just the way it is now. [The magazines] all just want to be like everyone else because they think it’s safe. They’re like sheep.