Compelling Images: Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark – The Damm family in their car, Los Angeles, California, 1987

A phenomenon that embodies the disinterested cruelty of Time is hiding in plain view. I first noticed it several decades ago whilst walking down my town’s high street.

A small family was approaching me from the opposite direction. The two parents looked to be in their early to mid-twenties, my own age at the time. But their appearance betrayed, maybe even boasted, the harshness of their lives—a harshness arising maybe from adverse circumstances (the economic base of the region had recently been destroyed), but also from bad living, as evidenced by the cigarettes, the tattoos, what looked like needle marks on the mother’s arm, their loud speech, laced with obscenities, and the father’s strutting walk that signaled a readiness for violence.

Between them skipped a girl of about six whose unspoiled delicacy was reminiscent of an upper-class child in a period drama. She was strikingly beautiful, with inquiring, intelligent eyes, and a face still friendly to the world. Her physique and her bearing had the sprung vigour of a young wild animal.

Despite the contrast between this girl and the adults who accompanied her there could be no doubt as to their kinship: both the man and the woman were recognisable in the girl’s features. And presumably the mother, when a little girl, had looked as beautiful and unspoiled as her daughter did now.

The family in Mary Ellen Mark’s photograph (Crissy aged 6, Jesse 4, their mother Linda 27 and stepfather Dean 33) were homeless and living in their car when Mark spent a week with them in 1987.

The photograph contains a grim equation: we can subtract the appearance of little Crissy from that of Linda, her mother. The resulting difference is the sum of the physical changes Time brings plus the traces that Life has left on Linda.

Time simultaneously grows us and wears us away. We are like young mountains that are simultaneously raised up by tectonic movements and eroded by the harshness of the environment, leaving crags, crevices, alluvium, screes, glaciers and valleys on their surface.

The article accompanying Mark’s photos (written by journalist Anne Fadiman) makes it clear that when this photo was taken Crissy was already all too familiar with the difficulties of life. But they had not yet left a visible trace. Eight years later Mary Ellen Mark would revisit the Damm family. In the resulting photographs Crissy’s appearance has begun to speak eloquently of the life she has been made to lead.

Random Images: Mary Ellen Mark

A couple year ago, Pip posted an image of Christina Ricci.  At the time, he was not aware that it was a photograph by Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015) until a reader brought it to his attention.  The image below was also in his collection and I feel it deserves attention as well.  This is timely not only because Mark passed away last year, but at the time of this writing, it was the featured image of her official website.

Mary Ellen Mark - Girl jumping over a Wall, Central Park, New York City, 1967

Mary Ellen Mark – Girl jumping over a Wall, Central Park, New York City, 1967

Mary Ellen Mark official website

Maiden Voyages: June 2015

I know there has not been too much activity this month, but items of interest do continue to come across my desk and I feel it necessary to make them available to you.

Surfing the Net: There are a handful of readers who surf the net regularly and send me little tidbits. They are interesting items but not important enough to make into stand alone posts, therefore, from now on, I will post them on upcoming Maiden Voyages as they come in.

Mary Ellen Mark dies: A reader just informed me about the death of photographer Mary Ellen Mark on May 25th.  Although Pigtails has only covered her work once (here), she was a prolific and talented artist worthy of mention.  There is also an iconic image of a girl in a wading pool and smoking which Pip intends to cover in a future post. [added 0604]

6-Year-Old Gassed in Auschwitz: There is a poignant account of the testimony of Judith Kalman, a Jewish Hungarian-born writer living in Montreal, during the trial of Oskar Gröning, known as the bookkeeper of Auschwitz. It centers around the fate of her family, most notably a half-sister she never knew, Eva Edit Weinberger—gassed at Auschwitz ten years before Kalman was born. An excellent consolidation of this material can be found here. The site includes commentary and links to more complete information.

Hashtag Culture: There is a cute YouTube video of a little girl named Lily going through a series of personal observations associated with her tweets.

“Faces” Art Exhibition: The Bozar Center for Fine Arts in Brussels (Bozar, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles) is having a retrospective called ‘FACES NOW’. The idea was to collect intriguing examples of faces in the fine arts since 1990. Although the reviewer, Mario Zilio, found the exhibit mundane, an intriguing image was used to promote the exhibit. The photo is titled Sonya (2000) by Sergey Bratkov and came from his series ‘KIDS’ submitted by The Regina Gallery.

Legal Briefs: Chris Madaio, through his experiences with the legal system, has become a paralegal himself and has offered to share some of his research and insights. The ongoing distractions and challenges due to his conviction has caused him to seek to educate others while giving him a way of focusing his efforts in a productive way.

I would like to research state-by-state (and also on the federal level) First Amendment and/or pornography laws relating specifically to photographers/artists who take pictures of children, minors, and very young adults.

Madaio is cognizant that people who have downloaded bona fide child pornography should be brought to justice. However, those laws meant to prohibit and prosecute such activities have also been loosely interpreted and used as a weapon to harass legitimate artists (like Jock Sturges or Graham Ovenden) simply because they personally disagree with the artists’ choice of content.

The study would not be limited just to what’s on the books, but also to how it’s applied through “case law”. I would also include…parents who’ve been hassled/convicted because of photos like their kids playing in the bathtub. In fact, even if a photographer/artist/parent is acquitted, one could argue that a considerable amount of damage has already been done.

As I receive new reports from Mr. Madaio, I will include them at the end of future Maiden Voyages posts and readers are welcome to suggest cases they heard about for Madaio to research.

Mary Ellen Mark and Christina Ricci

I scanned this from an old magazine, but unfortunately I neglected to check for information about the photographer and have since discarded the magazine. I’ve always found Christina Ricci a compelling individual. Even as a child—or perhaps especially as a child—she possessed an eery magnetism that made her perfect for roles like Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family movies and Kat Harvey in Casper. It’s interesting to note that Ricci can trace her career as a famous child star directly to a part in a school play which she obtained via a rather devious plan that worked perfectly. From Wikipedia: “A critic for the Bergen Record discovered Ricci at age eight in a school play (The Twelve Days of Christmas) at Edgemont School in Montclair, New Jersey. The critic’s son was originally cast in the role, but Ricci got him to hit her and told on him; he lost the role to her as part of his punishment.”

Update: I have since discovered that the photographer was Mary Ellen Mark.  For further info, see below.

Mary Ellen Mark – Christina Ricci

This supplemental information was posted on September 11, 2011:

In June I made this post. At the time I did not know who the photographer was. About every other day I take a look at the referrers to my site, which occasionally prove quite interesting. One of the referrers I checked this evening revealed that the photographer for this image was none other than Mary Ellen Mark. I’m excited about this discovery because Mark is an A-list photographer. Wikipedia quotes her on her child photography: “I’ve always felt that children and teenagers are not ‘children,’ they’re small people. I look at them as little people and I either like them or I don’t like them.”

Confessions of Christina Ricci (Official Site, now defunct)

Mary Ellen Mark (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Mary Ellen Mark

Wikipedia: Christina Ricci