Whether photographing the socially disadvantaged, those on the fringes of society or celebrities, Mary Ellen Mark told the stories of her protagonists without prejudice. For both her private and commissioned work, Mark accompanied her subjects often for many years—sometimes even for decades. In the light of the emerging women’s movement in the USA in the 1960s and ’70s, and as a freelance photographer at a time when print media was suffering its first major crisis, Mark fought her way to the forefront of female voices in photojournalism with her own visual language.
Encounters provides a cross-section of the photographer’s life’s work. The book focuses on five iconic series from the 1970s and ’80s whose subsequent publications in book form contributed significantly to Mark’s reputation: “Ward 81” in which she photographed women in an Oregon psychiatric hospital; a reportage on prostitutes on Falkland Road in Mumbai; a tribute to Mother Teresa’s charitable work; “Indian Circus” documenting traveling circus families; and the long-term project “Streetwise,” in which Mark followed the life of Erin Blackwell (Tiny) for more than 30 years, first as a teenage runaway, later as a mother in precarious living conditions. For the first time, this book contextualizes these works within Mark’s œuvre and presents them alongside original magazine spreads and archival material including contact sheets, letters and notebooks, to reveal the sweep of her accomplishment and singularly compassionate eye.