The Life & Work of Mary Ellen Mark

By Rachel Benbrook, Guest Blogger

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark passed away this previous week, and it’s important that we reflect upon her work and the impact she made on women’s rights.


Mary was no stranger to adversity, once initially being told not to quit her day job after having some of her photographs viewed by another photographer in the industry. She chose to rise above this criticism and allowed it to make her even more determined in her work.

Mary is best known for her photography publication “Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay.”  Mary spent up to ten years gaining the trust of prostitutes and vulnerable women who were working in the sex industry in one of Mumbai’s darkest areas. Once she was able to gain their trust, she was able to capture photographs that humanized the women and their situation, thus making the issue of prostitution much harder for people to ignore.


She worked fearlessly to make an impact on others through her photography, and was able to become a part of this community and gain the trust of the women who were involved in the sex industry, many against their will. Through her efforts, she was able to produce amazing photographic journalism that highlighted the plight of many women caught up in this often abusive trade.

The photography collection put a face to an issue that otherwise would have been ignored. Mary Ellen Mark’s photography gave light to many issues concerning women’s rights. She was not afraid to highlight marginalized individuals, and as the New York Times stated, “In the midst of exotica or on the fringes of society, where she often chooses to be, she does not exaggerate the unavoidably alien, freakish qualities a less complex photographer would emphasize, but tries to find clues to what is familiar and human.” Her work tried to highlight marginalized and vulnerable women for what they truly were, people who had lives and emotions.

In celebrating the life of a courageous photographer, we can also celebrate the impact she made for women through her work.  She went where very few people had ever been, and, in doing so, she was able to highlight vulnerable women.  How lucky the world was to have had such a courageous woman using photography to spread awareness.

Thank you Mary Ellen Mark.

Let's chat! Have you ever viewed any of Mary Ellen Mark's work? What did you think? How can we use our own professions to help spread awareness to women's rights? Share with us here!

About Rachel

RACHEL_BENBROOK.jpgRachel is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and the University of Leeds where she studied Political Communications. She is a passionate advocate of strong friendships, caffeine, social justice, current events, travels and adventures, as well as all things peanut butter. She enjoys watching Parks and Recreation, as well as teaching English to new language learners. 



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