The photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, died yesterday at age 75. She was one of the gifted lens women and men I was privileged to know back in the days when I worked as a reporter for Life magazine. I was never actually assigned to a story with her, but I got to know her in the halls of the offices, a slim, raven-haired woman with her trademark two long braids and the kindest of eyes. I remember how she stopped to talk with me when I was first hired, to welcome me into that rarified world that was photojournalism in the 1980s. She was one of my favorites, and not just because her work was so truthful, but also because she had the rare ability to make every person she encountered feel truly seen.
She was nominated for an Academy Award for Streetwise, the documentary about Seattle runaways that she made with her husband, Martin Bell, and a brilliant reporter at Life, Cheryl McCall, also now deceased, with whom Mary Ellen was often paired on assignments. Streetwise had been a Life story before it was a documentary. In recent years, Mary Ellen had gone back to find the subjects of that story, and was working on a new book about one of them, a girl, now a woman, named Tiny. The photo at left is a famous one of Tiny, taken in 1983, when the Life photo essay appeared. The image below is from the same shoot, every frame a kick in the solar plexus.
On Facebook today, all the former Life reporters and writers are queuing up to sing the praises of this extraordinary soul. One of them, my friend Linda, simply wrote: "Think Cheryl and Mary Ellen are working together again? Here's hoping. Or as Hemingway'd say, 'Isn't it pretty to think so?' "