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Book Details


Exposure

Published in 2005; Mary Ellen Mark (Author), Introduction by Weston Naef; Phaidon Press (Publisher);

The following review first appeared in Issue 2, 2005 of The Picture Professional, the quarterly magazine of the American Society of Picture Professionals, www.aspp.com. ASPP is a community of image experts committed to sharing our experience and knowledge throughout the industry.

Review by Niki Barrie / ASPP:

There is no photograph on the cover of Exposure, just giant type with the title and photographer's name in shades of gray. Weston Naef, the curator of photography at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles wrote the two-page Introduction titled "Family Ties." He draws the conclusion that family is "of great interest" to Mary Ellen Mark, and notes that animals, growing up in America, how kids play, and the transition from preteen to teenager are repeating themes in her work.

The images follow. Mark selected them herself-135 from the thousands in her archive. Most are black and white, but a few color ones are sprinkled through. One after the other the images come: page-and-one-quarter, page-and-one-half, page-and-three-quarters. None less than a full page. There are no chapter divisions in this book. The images are not in chronological order. Short, descriptive captions are the only text: "Runaway boy in a Bombay café, Bombay India, 1971," for example. Then, in the back of the book, is an unexpected treasure.

The "Afterword" is written by Mark herself and contains her memories and reflections on 40 years of taking pictures. Referring back to the sixties, when she began working as a freelance photographer, she said,

The state of photography, especially magazine photography was so different then-it was very exciting. Documentary photography was respected and given a real place. Magazines looked for interesting and meaningful stories about real people around the world. The cult of celebrity had not yet been invented. The pictures themselves were not retouched. Today it's very hard to know what to believe. Cut-andpaste rules, inches are taken off bodies, heads are moved around and the computer acts as a new and improved vanishing cream. Now the primary interest seems to be surface; content and reality are seldom seen. This new field of photography, "photo illustration," has replaced documentary photography in magazines.

Reading the stories behind Mark's images and the tales of her editorial assignments is like having dessert at the end of a fine meal. She talks about the young prostitutes she photographed in India for Stern in 1978, and the Damm family whom she photographed twice-in 1987 and 1994-for Life. In Kentucky in 1971, while photographing a story on Appalachian women for Ms. Magazine, she met a couple coming out of the general store. About them, she said,

They lived on a nearby mountaintop and had come down to stock up at the general store. They truly looked like a couple from an FSA photograph. They saw that I had a camera. The husband asked me if I would take a picture of him with his gun. I said, "Fine." He jumped into a nearby tree and posed. I had taken about four frames of him alone when his wife slid into the picture beside him. He stayed there in the exact same position. He didn't even bother to move his gun, which was pointed directly at her head. I've always felt it's best to let people do what they do rather than over-direct them. People sometimes do the most extraordinary things-much more interesting than I could ever dream up.

Reading this book is something like looking through Mark's personal photo album, but with the added attraction of that bonus at the end. Her memories and anecdotes enrich this book and give it added depth and spirit. When I reached the "Afterword," I could not help but go back and look at all of the images again.


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