The World of the ›Unfamous‹—Mary Ellen Mark’s Encounters


The retrospective ›Mary Ellen Mark . Encounters‹ presents a cross section of the oeuvre of the American photographer.

Since the 1960s, the US documentarian and portraitist has also always advocated for people on the fringes of society. Both her personal work and photographs made on assignment were taken with immense empathy. As a documentary photographer led by humanist ideals Mark never avoided those in need or excluded from society—whether homeless children in Seattle, the mentally ill in Oregon, or sex workers in Mumbai. Instead, she developed her own visual language to respectfully depict these individuals and to document their unique circumstances. Her work is regarded as a successor to great socio-critical photographers of the past such as W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans.

Mark is one of the most important photographers working in photojournalism and her photo series appeared in countless internationally respected magazines and US-American newspapers including Time, GEO, Stern, Life, and New York Times Magazine and won numerous prizes. At the same time, Mark belonged to the generation of photographers who were powerfully affected by shifts in photojournalism and magazine photography in the 1980s. Her career benefited from the fact that she taught workshops and photographed portraits of actors as well as working as a traditional editorial photographer. She approached the glitzy world of film with the same sensitivity and openness she brought to her other work.



The exhibition Mary Ellen Mark . Encounters features five iconic projects created by the photographer in the 1970s and 1980s, later publishing them in a series of photobooks that played a crucial role in cementing her reputation. ›Ward 81‹ collects her documentation of women in a state mental institution in Oregon over a period of weeks, ›Falkland Road‹ is a reportage on sex workers in Mumbai, ›Mother Teresa’s Missions of Charity‹ is an eponymous exploration both of the woman and her mission, ›Indian Circus‹ reproduces a series depicting traveling circus families, while Mark’s award-winning ›Streetwise‹ project and subsequent, ›Tiny: Streetwise Revisited‹ show her ongoing commitment to telling the story of Erin Charles, who was thirteen when they first met, and known as Tiny. Mark began the project when Tiny was living on the streets and continued photographing her (and eventually her ten children) over the next thirty years.

Mary Ellen Mark . Encounters is the first major retrospective of this renowned photographer’s work worldwide. Melissa Harris and Sophia Greiff (C/O Berlin Foundation) have curated the exhibition, conceived in cooperation with The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation—the New York-based archive of the photographer’s work. The show brings together well-known and obscure prints and also presents rare archival materials including contact sheets, letters, and notebooks. An exhibition catalogue is published by Steidl.

The exhibition will open as part of Berlin Art Week 2023 on 15 SEP at C/O Berlin and will run until 18 JAN 2024.


Mary Ellen Mark (1940—2015) studied art and art history as well as photojournalism at the Annenberg School for Communication. As of 1963, she turned to narrative photography with an emphasis on social critique, and began with projects all around the world. Often initiated by commissions, she would continue working over the long term on her projects and published the pictures in relevant journals and magazines such as Life, People, Vogue, and Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, or Vanity Fair, before they were published in over 20 thematic monographs. Mary Ellen Mark taught workshops and was awarded diverse international fellowships and important prizes for her work before her death at age 75 in New York.