Mary Ellen Mark on Creating Iconic Photography

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Image by Dylan and Sara. Used with permission

What does it take to create an iconic photograph that transmutes mundane everyday life into exquisite imagery? Profoto recently interviewed renowned street and documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark for that very answer.

There are many ways to create an image that attracts your audience. But to make a photo that transcends time and lingers in everyone’s memory it needs to be mysterious, beautiful yet strange, and overall just has to be an image that speaks to people. Mary goes onto say she specifically tries to take images that capture an emotion and feeling whether it’s humor, irony, or just plain old intensity.

The film versus digital discussion comes up during the course of the interview and Mary says that photographers should turn off the screen on the back of their camera. It raises the stakes for the shooter and it makes them reach harder when they can’t tell whether they got the shot until well after they’ve taken the exposure.

Mary gives one last piece of advice telling aspiring photographer to try and make a living out of their art even in spite of magazine shifting towards commercial solutions.

“If you love it and you really want to do it, then you must do it because you’ll never forgive yourself for not doing something you cared about or believed in,” Mary keyed off. The video is after the jump.


Profoto Presents Iconic Mary Ellen Mark from Profoto on Vimeo.

Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Brooklyn.