Mary Ellen Mark on Making Iconic Photographs

Mary Ellen Mark on Making Iconic Photographs

Leela Cyd
May 4, 2012

Mary Ellen Mark is one of the more extraordinary, dedicated photographers out there. Her forty year plus career has always deeply inspired me. In this short video, she speaks about her quest to create an iconic image, something we photographers all strive for.

Mary Ellen Mark a great photographer with a diverse range of work, from shooting small circuses in India to homeless families to celebrities and movie sets. She often shoots those who are marginalized by their society, for long periods of time. In my opinion, she's one of the most powerful documentary photographers working today.

We have a lot to learn from how she commands the shoot shown briefly in the video. She's very much a director, coaxing her subjects on the park bench. She has the confidence and ability of a seasoned pro, which, of course, she is! We can aspire to shoot this way too. We can be bold and ask the people we are photographing to work with us. That's the amazing power you have when you have a camera at your eye.

Another great lesson to be learned from this is what Mary Ellen Mark is looking for within her photos: honesty, intensity and emotion, these attributes she describes as adding up to making a great photograph. I wouldn't argue with that. You could flip that around and think on your next project: how can I add these bigger concepts into my image? Even if it's a plate of food or a shot of someone's house. What else can I bring into the frame that will add a human element and give a deeper layer to the photograph?

Lastly, Mary Ellen Mark brings up a point of great import. "It's hard to do anything really well ... to be okay at something is easy. But if you really want to be exceptional at something, it's hard." Amen Mary Ellen! This advice speaks to beginners on so many levels. You can't just pick up a camera and be ridiculously great at it (if you are, let me know how on Earth that has happened?!). It takes so much time and effort, like all professions.

Do you know this wonderful photographer's work? How does it sit with you?

• Visit Mary Ellen Mark's

Leela the Photo Magician

(video presented by Profoto)

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