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  1. #1

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    Discuss a Mary Ellen Mark photograph



    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.

    Thanks again to Jim for starting this idea!
    "Technology is a big destroyer of emotion and truth. Opportunity doesn't do anything for creativity. Yeah, it makes it easier and you can get home sooner, but it doesn't make you a more creative person. That's the disease you have to fight in any creative field.. ease of use." - Jack White

  2. #2
    Jerevan's Avatar
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    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.
    “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.” - Lao Tzu

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jerevan
    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?

  4. #4
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    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!!
    John Voss

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  5. #5

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    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.

  6. #6
    copake_ham's Avatar
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    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

  7. #7
    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    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.
    Semper Fi & God Bless America
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  8. #8

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    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.

  9. #9
    df cardwell's Avatar
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    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
    "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
    and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision"

    -Bertrand Russell

  10. #10
    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by df cardwell
    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.
    Semper Fi & God Bless America
    My Photography Blog

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