Mary Ellen Mark is one of the most creative and celebrated photographers around. We interviewed her last year and caught up with her again recently to talk about her workshops, her recent project “Prom,” a book and film, and the importance of catching that crucial moment.
Blurb: You’ve been teaching workshops for years. Has anything changed in your approach?
Mary Ellen: Not really. Our goal is to make sure that everyone who comes leaves a better photographer and our students work like dogs during the workshops to accomplish that. That hasn’t changed. The only big change is the Blurb book we produce post-workshop. It’s a great end result for everyone.
Blurb: What advice do you have for anyone selecting a workshop?
Mary Ellen: Find a workshop tailored to your interests. If you want to learn about big commercial shoots, my workshops aren’t for you. The workshops Martin (Mark’s husband and documentary filmmaker) and I teach are more about creating strong portraiture and documentary photography or films. We focus on how to see and create strong images.
Blurb: What workshops do you have coming up?
Mary Ellen: I’ll be doing another one in Oaxaca and one in Iceland, which I’ve found an incredible place to photograph people. Most people think of Iceland and landscape photography, but it’s also a great place for portraits.
Blurb: Speaking of portraits, you’ve done celebrity photography and street photography. Do you use different techniques for each?
Mary Ellen: When I’m shooting on a set, like a movie set like I did recently with Tim Burton’s movie “Dark Shadows,” I set up a small studio and shoot medium format, and once the characters are in costume, they go into character immediately. It’s easy for them and I just have to look for the gesture, the moment.
Shooting on the street I’m still looking for that moment. The big difference is with portraiture, you have to control the subject and on the street you have to control yourself.
Blurb: Tell us a little about “Prom”. What went into the making of that?
Mary Ellen: Martin, a small crew, and I traveled to proms around the country, photographing and filming couples. The project took about four years and the logistics were very complicated – travel, permissions, editing.
Blurb: What advice do you have for anyone contemplating a long-term project?
Mary Ellen:Just do it. Just jump into the ice-cold water. Be your own self starter. There are so many ways to get your work out there. More than before and that includes making a Blurb book. Really just do it.
Blurb: Thanks so much, Mary Ellen. We also look forward to seeing more books by you and your students.