Mark vs. Mann

May 4th, 2010

Sally Mann is a tremendously talented photographer whose work never fails to creep me out. I came across her “At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women” (1988) in the stacks at the Berkeley Public Library last week, and almost immediately also found “Streetwise” by Mary Ellen Mark.

Streetwise” (1984) is Martin Bell’s Oscar-nominated documentary about runaway kids living on the streets in Seattle, some of them turning to prostitution to survive. The inspiration for the movie was the Time magazine article “Streets of the Lost” by Cheryl McCall, with photos by Mary Ellen Mark. Mark (who is married to Bell) took photos during the filming of “Streetwise,” and released them as a book by the same name in 1988. I had seen the film when it came out, and came across her photos years later (at the Getty, I think). Both were extremely powerful, capturing the dignity of these kids in the face of exploitation and desperation.

When I saw the work by Mann and Mark side-by-side I was struck by the similarity of the subject matter, but how differently each photographer chose to portray them. In each set of photos I have selected from these two books, the image on the left is by Mark, and the one on the right is by Mann. I’ll say no more, and let the photos speak for themselves.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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