Mary Ellen Mark

Falkland Road, Indian Circus, & Ward 81

March 3 - April 3, 2011

As part of its ongoing 35th anniversary year of programming, Blue Sky will present  photographer Mary Ellen Mark's first solo exhibition in Portland featuring original prints from three bodies of work, including the powerful black-and-white series "Ward 81" made at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem in the mid-1970s.  

Falkland Road

Falkland Road is a notorious street of prostitutes in Bombay. In many ways, it is like any busy lower-class street in Bombay, densely populated by vendors, merchants and shops, but also over-crowded with girls, from 11-year-olds to 65-year-old madams. The street is lined with old wooden buildings, which teem with prostitutes hanging out of the windows, in the viewing cages on the ground floor and on the steps. All day and all night, customers pass down the street to survey the girls. Mark's images of Falkland Road are beautiful, electric, shocking, and remarkable for their emotional power and for the visceral brilliance of their color. This series, made between October 1978 and  January 1979, is an astonishing insight into a raw and frightening world, made accessible by the completeness of the photographer's involvement, by her humanity, and by the way she captures the variety of individual life and the color, passion, and tenderness that still abide there.

Indian Circus

In 1989 and 1990, Mary Ellen Mark traveled throughout India to document 18 of the country's most lively circuses. Mark's beautiful and compassionate black-and-white photographs have since become some of the most iconic images of circus life ever made.

"What she has captured is a life of great daring and relentless hard work, but also the feeling of what a family the circus is to its performers--including its animals. The circus is an oasis within a country in turmoil; the circus is a cloister within a world of chaos. The Indian circuses reflect an atavistic and compassionate life, which Mary Ellen has depicted with disturbing honesty and compelling affection." - John Irving, author

Ward 81

In 1975, Mary Ellen Mark worked on the set of Milos Forman's film of Ken Kesey's 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The film was shot on location at the Oregon State Hospital, a mental institution in Salem, Oregon. While on set, the director of the hospital, Dr. Dean Brooks, took Mary Ellen to meet the women of Ward 81, the only locked hospital security ward for women in the state: these inmates were considered dangerous to themselves or to others. In February of 1976, just before the ward closed (it ceased to exist in November of 1977, when it became the female section of a coeducational treatment ward), Mark and Karen Folger Jacobs, a writer and social scientist, were given permission to make a more extended stay, living on the ward in order to photograph and interview the women. They ultimately spent 36 days on Ward 81, creating a powerful document of what they experienced as temporary residents at the Oregon State Hospital.

MARY ELLEN MARK has achieved worldwide visibility through her numerous books, exhibitions and editorial magazine work. She is a contributing photographer to The New Yorker and has published photo-essays and portraits in such publications as LIFE, New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair. For over four decades, she has traveled extensively to make pictures that reflect a high degree of humanism. Today, she is recognized as one of our most respected and influential photographers. Her images of our world's diverse cultures have become landmarks in the field of documentary photography. Her portrayals of Mother Teresa, Indian circuses, and brothels in Bombay were the product of many years of work in India. A photo essay on runaway children in Seattle became the basis of the academy award nominated film Streetwise (1984), directed and photographed by her husband, Martin Bell.

Mary Ellen was presented with the Cornell Capa Award by the International Center of Photography in 2001. She has also received the Infinity Award for Journalism, an Erna & Victor Hasselblad Foundation Grant, and a Walter Annenberg Grant for her book and exhibition project on AMERICA. Among her other awards are the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, the Matrix Award for outstanding woman in the field of film/photography, and the Dr. Erich Salomon Award for outstanding merits in the field of journalistic photography. She was also presented with honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from her Alma Mater, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of the Arts; three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Photographer of the Year Award from the Friends of Photography; the World Press Award for Outstanding Body of Work Throughout the Years; the Victor Hasselblad Cover Award; two Robert F. Kennedy Awards; and the Creative Arts Award Citation for Photography at Brandeis University.

She has published sixteen books including Passport (Lustrum Press, 1974), Ward 81 (Simon & Schuster, 1979), Falkland Road (Knopf, 1981), Mother Teresa's Mission of Charity in Calcutta (Friends of Photography, 1985), The Photo Essay: Photographers at Work (A Smithsonian series), Streetwise (second printing, Aperture, 1992