Mark also attempted to taste a bite of life as a broken person by often traveling to India or three months at a time and photographing human suffering whether it was from illness or deformity (“Photo”). These experiences of placing herself in different environments as well as her noticing the humanity in those who are often shunned by society are the largest inspirations for Mark especially since the events affected her directly. The photographs Mark took while admitted into asylum Ward 81 were collected into one photography group and named simply as a number out of 97 (also called “3008-046-031” on her website).
Number 51 out of 97 is a candid photo of a girl in a floral patterned re’s who is staring at herself in a mirror. The photograph is in black and white most likely due to the difficultly of color photography during the time it was taken; however, the lack of color leads to less distractions and allows the viewer to fully grasp the visual aspects of this photograph by making it look simple but having a new meaning when one reads between the lines.
Photograph 51 out of 97 has full, clear focus on a majority of the space but, the right side closest to the camera lens is slightly blurred. The light source can only be seen through the mirror to be a window with light shining into the mom. Next to the window, there is a glare that grasps the eye of the viewer and drags one’s attention straight to the reflection of the girl’s face. Without the reflection, it seems that the girl is simply glancing into the mirror; however, the reflection gives a full view of her face and her expression is one of confusion and wondering.
The overall photograph seems to portray the girl’s wayward identity and her inability to find herself. Also, Mark’s ability to gain the permission of the girl to show herself at her weakest point further proves how Mark creates her photographs best by connecting with the Us objects and gaining their trust (“Photo”). This photo and the others from Ward 81 reiterate how admitting herself into the asylum truly affected Mark and allowed her to take a deeper look at people whose humanity is often striped from them by society.
Mary Ellen Mark rarely ever strayed away from stark black and white photography for she felt as if her black and white work means much more to her than her work done in color and that it is more difficult to be sure that a viewer will see the deepness of a photograph if it in color (“Art”). As an artist who rarely change style, it leads one to wonder how rites responded when she did change her styles. Despite usually working in black and white, there are certain works that she chose to shoot in complete color.
The most controversial one was the Falkland Road story of prostitutes in Bombay (“Camera”). Mark herself felt as though color photographs would best suit this project because the color makes the photograph seem more realistic and therefore, it would have a larger emotional impact on viewers. However, criticism came from a so-called feminist in New Society who claimed that the photographs of the prostitutes were not “grotto’ enough and that
Mark should have photographed the women in black and white to allow the view to interpret their true colors (“Camera”). Mark refuted the criticism in an interview saying that she did not wish to add a prejudice on to the photographs whether positive Or negative and if the photographs had been in black in white, there would have been a negative view left on the prostitutes and the photos would not have looked as realistic (camera”). Through her usage of color instead of her usual black and white, many critics questioned the reasoning for her switch.
As Mary Ellen Mark went through many environmental changes in order to take her photographs, a natural question is how the environmental changes and events throughout Mark’s lifetime have affected her concepts. In 1967, Mark moved to New York (“Mary’) where there were many demonstrations and protests against the Vietnam War. Seeing this, Mark began photographing what later would become her main focus for many years. Photographing protests and women standing up for their rights, Mark began to realize the focus Of her work she wanted to attempt to achieve (“Mary’).
In 1979, Mark releases her book of photographs ND interviews from inside the asylum “Ward 81” which begins a new concept for Mark (“Art”). She begins to attempt to understand her subjects better and once she has acquired a sense of the identity and life struggles of the subject, she tries to find the best way to portray what she has found out through a photo so that anyone who looks at the photo can grasp an idea of the subjects story (“May”). The last main environmental changes Mark has been through are her travels to India and Bombay where she photographed women who work as prostitutes.