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f/stopblues
08-08-2006, 03:53 PM
http://www.art-dept.com/artists/mark/portfolio/documentary/300H-059-017.jpg

A common theme in her photos is of kids forced to play adult roles, or kids weathered by life long before they should be. They've been burdened by maturity through necessity. In this photograph I'm struck by the sadness in their faces. What about the mask? The comfort in each other? I immediately want to know their story, what they're feeling and why. A good photo engages the viewer to seek out answers, either by means of further viewing the photo or by resources outside what is presented. This one captured my attention.

I'm not going to post the backround information on this, as I would be interested in everyone's personal interpretation of the scene. More of her work can be found at www.maryellenmark.com or www.art-dept.com/artists/mark (http://www.art-dept.com/artists/mark).

Thanks again to Jim for starting this idea!

Jerevan
08-08-2006, 04:57 PM
Mary was the first photographer that made me really want to make photographs (it was her circus photos from India, that took hold of me, in colour of all things!). Many of her subjects seems a bit lost, sometimes in the world, sometimes in thoughts. Very often there's a thing discordant within the photographs, here it's the mask on the boy (?), it feels like a carnival that's no fun anymore. Could be a boring summer's day, could be a caravan camp or refugees from somewhere, but there is an intense feeling of melancholy in this one for me.

tim atherton
08-08-2006, 05:06 PM
Could be a boring summer's day, could be a caravan camp or refugees from somewhere, but there is an intense feeling of melancholy in this one for me.

looks like gypsies/Travellers?

jovo
08-08-2006, 05:08 PM
It's a wonderful photograph. There's an immediacy and intimacy that's deeply personal and unguarded here...not even a trace of 'posing'. It fires one's imagination to construct a 'story' that accounts for the expressive melancholy, and that quickly becomes involving. It's 'in your face' because it's truly in theirs. Mary Ellen....you go girl!!

Kino
08-08-2006, 07:32 PM
Great photo. Looks like itinerant workers or gypsies and the kids are seemingly pondering their future in the midst of a pause of playing. Something about it is edgy; the way the frame is dynamically loaded off balance, my eyes keep going to the boy who looks accusingly into the camera, his mask which is ironic in the context of his expression, the girl's thousand yard stare from ?? accumulated road trauma??, the tires on the far right, the trash on the road, the men in the background at the card table and then back to the boy to start over again.

It almost feels like a bomb is about to go off and they seem resigned to their fate and all you can do is look on...

Kinda like a Hitchcock film, only better.

copake_ham
08-08-2006, 07:43 PM
Agree it seems to be "travellers" or gypsies (the folks in Brit/Euro would know better).

Besides all that has been mentioned - I also think the angle of the road to the sunset suggest an "endless road" that these travellers are fated to follow.

Are the immediate subjects seeking "escape" or are they portraying "resignation"? That I cannot decide

Alex Hawley
08-08-2006, 08:00 PM
Its a good photo and it can tell many stories, can be interpreted many ways.

The thing that always gets me about this type of work is the possible exploitation that can take place. Avedon, another splendid photographer, often produced work in this same genre. My own personal opinion, but I just have a gut rejection of photographers making money off other people's misery or perceived misery. Have no idea whether that's the case with this one or not, but I think it can easily become demeaning to the subjects, whether intentionally demeaning or not.

Bill Mitchell
08-08-2006, 09:11 PM
The first question one must ask himself is, "what is the photograph really about?" Is it about the children? Is it about the children in relation to their environment? I think it's the later.
I have always maintained that a good photograph must stimulate the viewer's emotions, or his intellect. Aesthetically, this is not a particularly interesting image, but it asks innumerable questions, and stirs the imagination: What The Hell is Going On Here?
The silver butterfly mask draws one's eyes immediately to it (because of the brightness), but there is no joy associated with it, as you would expect from someone wearing such a thing. The children don't actually look happy or unhappy, they just look vacant, or perhaps only tired.
What is their relation to the rows of campers? The lighting is dull -- is it too early in the morning for the kids to be really awake? Or is it in the evening, and they are exhausted?
There is one of those black things between the girl's eyebrows, so the presumption is that they are Indian. Is this a bunch of people on Holiday, or temporary housing for migrant workers, or are they indeed Gypsies or Travelers?
The picture does not stand alone -- it needs companions or explanation to provide a context for appreciation. I can imagine what it's about, but look forward to the background information to be posted.
Mary Ellen Mark usually hits the mark for me.

df cardwell
08-08-2006, 09:14 PM
Alex,

If you're going raise the question,
you might as well report back after checking out Mark's integrity.

It's hard for me to step back far enough from Mark to discuss the picture.

I don't think there's any doubt that she is the photographer to set the standard - in every way - over the past 20 or 30 years.

d

Alex Hawley
08-08-2006, 09:32 PM
Alex

If you're going raise the question,
you might as well report back after checking out Mark's integrity.

d

df - not questioning her integrity. Like i said, many times the photograph is exploited by others far removed from the photographer. Its just I question I always have whenever I see something like this. And I haven't seen this one before.

df cardwell
08-08-2006, 09:51 PM
" I just have a gut rejection of photographers making money off other people's misery or perceived misery " Hawley

Postmodernism and the Popular Culture hasn't corrupted everybody.

“In most cases, if I didn’t tell their story, nobody would.” Mary Ellen Mark

You should check her out, Alex. You'll find that she is impeccable.

copake_ham
08-08-2006, 10:03 PM
df - not questioning her integrity. Like i said, many times the photograph is exploited by others far removed from the photographer. Its just I question I always have whenever I see something like this. And I haven't seen this one before.

I'm bothered by your use of the term "exploited".

Maybe these are just two weary folk waiting to get into the Burning Man Festival?

Jim Chinn
08-08-2006, 10:32 PM
Thanks for posting the image. When I was thinking about future images I thought about Mark. Glad you picked her.

In this image its the eyes. The eyes of the girl frighten me a little. I don't know if I want to know the experiences behind those eyes. They look far older then the real age of the girl. The boy(?) perhaps for a moment pretending to be someone else, wishing to be someone else.


I always go back and forth on the issue of exploitation with this type of photography. I remeber seeing Diane Arbus' images of institutionalized retarded adults for the first time 20 years ago and being sort of shocked.
Now when I look at them I see a certain innocence and diginity in the people photographed. They seem today to be very caring images.

Gay Larson
08-08-2006, 10:40 PM
It does evoke emotion. At first glance I felt pity, they look so tired and vacant and the mask doesn't seem to belong. They aren't enjoying it. The boy's eyes seem to have some anger in them. They make me think of all the children who have no choice in the way they must live their lives. What would they choose if they could?

Curt
08-09-2006, 12:12 AM
She is one of the great Social conscience photographers. I still see her pictures today in the streets, as the underbelly shows its self in the color of today.

Curt
08-09-2006, 12:16 AM
Wow!!!

I like the first one as it shows how life is for a lot of people. We seldom see these people except on occasion and we tend to look away.

She did portraits also, like this old gentleman with a camera!

Sorry for the double copy of the first. Here work is very very impressive.

JBrunner
08-09-2006, 12:25 AM
It is really wonderful to read the impressions of this Mark photograph and photography. Work like the thread photo function on so many levels that analysis is an examination of your own soul.

David H. Bebbington
08-09-2006, 12:50 AM
A great picture, evidence of MEM's ability to depict people at the bottom of the social heap with dignity and empathy. Sadly, also an example of the kind of "committed" photography for which it is becoming ever harder to find an outlet.The question of MEM's motivation is valid, I for one have absolutely no reason to doubt her sincerity. The comparison with Avedon's social documentary work is interesting. I think RA was motivated by egotism and a desire to show that he was "serious" - his pictures in particular taken in state mental institutions are a perfect example of total failure to engage with the subject matter.

PS: Yet another good choice of material for discussion!

Changeling1
08-09-2006, 12:58 AM
Looks like two kids living on Pork 'n Beans and worn–out lies. What wouldn't they do for chocolate milk and cigarettes? I hope they never got near Hollywood, California.

noblebeast
08-09-2006, 01:00 AM
This is one of the great, and disturbing, things that only a photograph can do. If you saw these two kids on the street you could, and probably would, glance away without looking too deeply in their eyes. But the photograph makes it okay to take a closer look and what I see in those eyes bugs me a lot - kids who have seen and experienced things that youngsters that age should not have had to deal with. A painter could show us that, but we wouldn't know how much of it was "impressionistic." A video could present their story, but with so many elements going on at once (movement, sound, color, a word from our sponsor) it would be easy to miss the details. Someone could tell us about these kids and we would shake our heads and "tsk, tsk," but it would be on a relatively superficial level. A photograph captured the moment and the look and holds it still for us to really ponder if we dare to look.

And all the talk of "exploitation" and such seems to #1 always come from those who's primary work is in landscape or other inanimate subjects (not a denigration of the work, the photographers or the subject matter). #2 It's good to learn the background of photographers rather than make assumptions. Mary Ellen Mark cares about her subjects deeply, and in many cases remains in contact with them - not to further exploit but to track the progress of her friends. Diane Arbus went to the institutions for the mentally challenged to force us to acknowledge the existence of a population that up until that point was kept hidden from the sight of "polite" company (much as she did in her other photographic subjects). In her journals she wrote about the people she was photographing at these institutions, referring to them by name and personalities and talking about the enjoyment she got in their company. And they enjoyed the attention they were receiving from someone on the "outside," so who was exploiting whom?

I'm reminded of the old saw, "Your feelings don't tell you about anyone but yourself." So if someone feels this sort of work is exploitive, perhaps they can best be served by that feeling by focusing inward. For myself, if I could give the world just a few photos of this nature then none of my playing around with silver and chemicals would have been an empty, self indulgent exercise.

Thanks for posting this photo,
Joe