A native of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, Mary Ellen Mark took up photography as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees. Since then, she has published 12 books, and her photo-essays and portraits have appeared in publications such as Harper's Bazaar, Life, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, the Sunday Times Magazine in London, and Vogue.
During nearly three decades of extensive travel, Mark has captured diverse cultures and contexts in images that have become landmarks in the field of documentary photography, and have been featured in a series of books by the photographer, including Ward 81 (1979), Falkland Road (1981), Mary Ellen Mark: Twenty-Five Years (1991), Indian Circus (1993), Portraits (1995), and her most recent book, American Odyssey (1999). She says of her work, "I've always tried to let my photographs be a voice for people who have less of an opportunity to speak for themselves." Mark's photo essay on runaway children in Seattle was one of the inspirations for Streetwise, an Academy Award- nominated film directed by her husband, the filmmaker Martin Bell. She also served as associate producer for Bell's motion picture, American Heart (1992).
Among Mark's many professional honors are the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography (1997), a Hasselblad Foundation Grant (1997), a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (1994), and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1977, 1979, 1990). She has also received honorary doctorate degrees in fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania (1994) and the University of the Arts, Philadelphia (1992), the Creative Arts Awards Citation for Photography from Brandeis University (1988), the World Press Award for Outstanding Body of Work Throughout the Years (1988), the Photographer of the Year Award from The Friends of Photography (1987), and two Robert F. Kennedy Awards (1981, 1985).
Mary Ellen Mark lives in New York City, and lectures and teaches workshops at various universities and cultural institutions.