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Renowned photographer in close-up at Upstream Gallery

By Patricia Robert
Mary Ellen Mark’s photo of Tiny wearing a Halloween costume in Seattle in 1983.
 

Nearly one year since the death of Mary Ellen Mark, one of the most influential and praised photographers of her time, comes a unique opportunity to further explore this exceptional artist and her process at Meredith Lue's “Mary Ellen Mark Retrospective Presentation” at Upstream Gallery in Hastings next Friday, March 25.

Lue, a Hastings resident, was Mark’s studio manager beginning in 1998. She continues to work in the photographer’s Soho office with Mark’s husband, film director Martin Bell. A Hastings native, Lue graduated from Hastings High School in 1991 and earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Colgate.

“Mary Ellen had such a strong personality,” Lue said in a recent interview. “It took three of us to keep up with her, 24/7. When she worked on something it was nonstop, and she gave 110 percent to everything. That was the case until the very end.”

Mark died of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder also known as preleukemia, last May at the age of 75.

Mark’s work covered a wide range of subjects and was included in such publications as Life magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair.

She was known for her images and portraiture of such varied subjects as Mother Teresa, Indian circuses, and the brothels of Mumbai. Mark’s work was also used in advertising campaigns for such prestigious brands as Coach bags, Eileen Fisher, Mass Mutual and Heineken, among others. Her work has been included in exhibitions and museums around the world.

She published 18 books, was the associate producer of the film “American Heart” (1992), and the recipient of a myriad of awards including the 2014 Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award from the George Eastman House, the Outstanding Contribution Photography Award from the World Photography Organization, and the Cornell Capa Award from the International Center of Photography. The latter institution established a scholarship in her name this past January.

Lue’s presentation will show images of Mark’s work throughout the photographer’s long career, many in chronological order, including the project she was working on in the months before her death.

In 1983, Mark shot photos for the Life magazine article “Streets of the Lost,” showing teenagers living on the streets of Seattle. Through that project, she was impacted by the stories of several of her subjects. She convinced her husband that he should film a documentary, which he made in 1984. “Streetwise” was nominated for an Academy Award as best documentary in 1984. Mark published a book with the same title in 1988.

While several teenagers were featured in the photographs, film and book, one girl, whose street name was “Tiny,” became the focus. “Tiny was 14 at the time,” Lue said. “Her real name was Erin Blackwell. Over the years, many, many people would contact Mary Ellen, wanting to know what had happened to Tiny. They wanted an update.

“This became Mary Ellen’s defining project,” Lue continued. “She had kept in touch with Tiny/Erin and photographed her over the 30 or so years. Tiny had been on and off the streets, on and off drugs, and had given birth to 10 children. But by the 2000s, Tiny had settled down with her husband and youngest children. She struggled, and Mary Ellen was determined to show this struggle. She finished the book and was able to see the final edit just before her death in May.”

The Aperture Foundation published “Tiny: Streetwise Revisited” last October. Photographs from the book are on view at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, Fla., and will be exhibited at the Aperture Foundation Gallery in Chelsea, starting May 25.

“Mary Ellen gave lectures so often that it would be nice if we could continue this tradition,” Lue said. “When I received the invitation from the Upstream Gallery, Martin and I thought it would be a nice way to experiment, to see if we could continue to bring forth her work in this format.”

The Upstream Gallery opened in 1991. It is a cooperative gallery whose members, currently numbering 21, are arts professionals who work together to maintain the gallery space. Upstream embraces all fine arts mediums. There are three juried exhibitions annually, and concerts, which include lectures, several times a year.

“I am really excited about the presentation Meredith is going to give. She is just a great person and her subject, Mary Ellen Mark, was extraordinary,” said photographer Susan Richman, a Hastings resident and Upstream Gallery member who arranged Lue’s event.


The March 25 program on Mary Ellen Mark beings at 7 p.m. at  Upstream Gallery, 8 Main St, Hastings. Admission is free.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


 

March 18, 2016

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