Mary Ellen Mark | Seen Behind The Scenes

Posted: February 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Cinema, Film, Photography, Quotes

Mary Ellen Mark’s latest book from Phaidon, Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing On Set, is a beautiful volume, full of genuine, candid moments, posed portraits and a great insider’s peak at the process behind some of the most iconic films since the late sixties.

Whether Mark is shooting portraits of people on the fringe or documenting issues, she brings a lushness and striking empathy to her subjects. Combine this velvety touch with the make-believe machinations of a movie set and legendary figures of cinema, and the results are a surreal anthropologic study of cinematic artists where there is no line between performance and reality.

It’s like looking behind the curtain and seeing nothing but towering giants.

Dustin Hoffman sneaks up on Lawrence Olivier on the set of John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) in New York’s Central Park. Mary Ellen Mark

Dustin Hoffman sneaks up on Lawrence Olivier on the set of John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) in New York’s Central Park. Mary Ellen Mark

The levity of the photos belies the tension of the scene being shot, in which Babe (Hoffman) frog-marches Szell (Olivier) to the reservoir pump house in the film’s climax. Mary Ellen Mark

The levity of the photos belies the tension of the scene being shot, in which Babe (Hoffman) frog-marches Szell (Olivier) to the reservoir pump house in the film’s climax. Mary Ellen Mark

It’s all changed so much. When I first started to photograph, it was really based on individuality. Much more. When I look at photographs now, I think sometimes it’s hard to tell actually who took the photograph.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Photos from Mary Ellen Mark’s Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing on Set, published by Phaidon Press Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” in the dressing room

Photos from Mary Ellen Mark’s Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing on Set, published by Phaidon Press Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” in the dressing room

Now there is a big emphasis on advertising so it requires a lot of studio work. When I first started to work on film sets, you didn’t need to do any studio shots.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark, pictured above in 1976 on the Philippines set of Apocalypse Now, has a new book out: Seen Behind the Scene (Phaidon Press) collects forty years of her on-set photography from a wide range of movies.

Mary Ellen Mark, pictured above in 1976 on the Philippines set of Apocalypse Now, has a new book out: Seen Behind the Scene (Phaidon Press) collects forty years of her on-set photography from a wide range of movies. Photo by Dean Tavoularis

I was on that set almost a month [Apocalypse Now], and it was such a luxury. It took away a lot of the pressure to get the material I needed. I can’t stand having my picture taken now. You see a picture of yourself as a young woman and think, ‘I wish I still looked like that.’

-Mary Ellen Mar, New York Times interview

Jack Nicholson, Stockard Channing and Warren Beatty on the set of "The Fortune" in 1974, Mary Ellen Mark

Jack Nicholson, Stockard Channing and Warren Beatty on the set of "The Fortune" in 1974, Mary Ellen Mark

I could never have thought of that pose [above]. I’m not a conceptual photographer. If I’d asked them to do it, it never would have happened. I think I snapped off two frames, and that was it. It was over.

-Mary Ellen Mark, New York Times interview

Nicole Kidman in costume on set, Australia, Kununurra, Australia, 2007. Mary Ellen Mark

Nicole Kidman in costume on set, Australia, Kununurra, Australia, 2007. Mary Ellen Mark

You used to have much more freedom. You used to really be able to wander the set much, much more. And I work a lot on Tim Burton’s films and when I do go on his set, he does give me a lot of freedom. But I think that often when the film company hires you now, they really just want studio photographs so they can use them for what they call their ‘one sheets’ for advertising.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Marlon Brando on the set of "Apocalypse Now" in 1976, Mary Ellen Mark

Marlon Brando on the set of "Apocalypse Now" in 1976, Mary Ellen Mark

On Marlon Brando:

I first worked with him in ‘The Missouri Breaks.’ The rule was, before you took his picture, you had to ask his permission. It was so frightening. And if he said no, you felt like a fool. On ‘Apocalypse’ it was easier, but I knew the idea had to be his. So I brought a jar of bugs, set them down.

-Mary Ellen Mark, New York Times interview

Sean Penn in his dressing room for the Broadway play Slab Boys, Manhattan, 1983. Mary Ellen Mark

Sean Penn in his dressing room for the Broadway play Slab Boys, Manhattan, 1983. Mary Ellen Mark

‘I asked him if I could come to his dressing room with him, and he said fine, and I took that picture. He was — a kid.’ Later Mr. Penn refused to cooperate on the set of “The Falcon and the Snowman” (1985). ‘I begged him, but he wasn’t in the mood, and it was a terrible situation because it’s your fault. You have to come back with that photograph.’

-Mary Ellen Mark, New York Times interview

Director Federico Fellini surveys the elaborate set of Satyricon (1969) in Rome, including the house where the movie’s two protagonists, Encopio and Ascilto, live. Mary Ellen Mark

Director Federico Fellini surveys the elaborate set of Satyricon (1969) in Rome, including the house where the movie’s two protagonists, Encopio and Ascilto, live. Mary Ellen Mark

With directors who love still pictures, you still have access. They don’t mind you being there. And you learn how not to be intrusive. You just take cues of where you can be that’s not going to be disturbing.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Gregory Peck with two young extras, Old Gringo, Mexico City, Mexico. Mary Ellen Mark, 1988

Gregory Peck with two young extras, Old Gringo, Mexico City, Mexico. Mary Ellen Mark, 1988

Regarding the contributions written by the filmmakers in this book and the absence of writing by herself:

I always felt as a photographer, what is really interesting about my photographs are the subjects and not myself.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Jessica Lange and Dustin Hoffman on Set, Tootsie, Hurley, New York. Mary Ellen Mark, 1982

Jessica Lange and Dustin Hoffman on Set, Tootsie, Hurley, New York. Mary Ellen Mark, 1982

Readying the horses for the next take, Fellini's Satyricon, Rome, Italy. Mary Ellen Mark, 1969

Readying the horses for the next take, Fellini's Satyricon, Rome, Italy. Mary Ellen Mark, 1969

I just think it’s important to be direct and honest with people about why you’re photographing them and what you’re doing. After all, you are taking some of their soul.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Tim Burton prepares for a scene with Paul Giamatti (in orangutan costume) in his remake of Planet of the Apes (2001). Mary Ellen Mark

Tim Burton prepares for a scene with Paul Giamatti (in orangutan costume) in his remake of Planet of the Apes (2001). Mary Ellen Mark

The Cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Posing for their photograph on location at the Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon. Mary Ellen Mark, 1974

The Cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Posing for their photograph on location at the Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon. Mary Ellen Mark, 1974

Alejandro González Iñárritu directs Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in a small Moroccan village for a scene of Babel (2006). Mary Ellen Mark

Alejandro González Iñárritu directs Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in a small Moroccan village for a scene of Babel (2006). Mary Ellen Mark

Regarding the absence of any images from Arthur Penn’s “Alice’s Restaurant” in the book:

That was the first film that I worked on. And I looked at the pictures and I didn’t really think that I did as well as I should have on that film. It was the first one. I wanted these pictures to all be of a certain level. Although it was a wonderful film to work on, I almost wished it had happened a bit later when I was more experienced.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Cinematographer Billy Williams checks Katharine Hepburn’s light in the woods of New Hampshire on the set of On Golden Pond (1981), directed by Mark Rydell. Mary Ellen Mark

Cinematographer Billy Williams checks Katharine Hepburn’s light in the woods of New Hampshire on the set of On Golden Pond (1981), directed by Mark Rydell. Mary Ellen Mark

Director Francis Ford Coppola shelters himself from the driving rain that added to the troubles of an already beleaguered shoot for Apocalypse Now (1979). Mary Ellen Mark

Director Francis Ford Coppola shelters himself from the driving rain that added to the troubles of an already beleaguered shoot for Apocalypse Now (1979). Mary Ellen Mark

Reality is always extraordinary.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, and Art Garfunkel “French-kissing” on the set of Mike Nichols’s Carnal Knowledge (1971), in Vancouver, Canada. Mary Ellen Mark

Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, and Art Garfunkel “French-kissing” on the set of Mike Nichols’s Carnal Knowledge (1971), in Vancouver, Canada. Mary Ellen Mark

The obsessions we have are pretty much the same our whole lives. Mine are people, the human condition, life.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Melanie Griffith with her then boyfriend, Don Johnson, on Sanibel Island, Florida, during a break in filming of Night Moves (1975), directed by Arthur Penn. Mary Ellen Mark

Melanie Griffith with her then boyfriend, Don Johnson, on Sanibel Island, Florida, during a break in filming of Night Moves (1975), directed by Arthur Penn. Mary Ellen Mark

She was an innocent 15-year-old who was madly in love with Don Johnson. She was just a little kid with a little baby voice, but her mom trusted me. Now everything has to become this big production. I could never get a picture of that intimate morning now.

-Mary Ellen Mark, New York Times interview

Johnny Depp and Gunpowder, his character’s horse, in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999), Surrey, England. Mary Ellen Mark

Johnny Depp and Gunpowder, his character’s horse, in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999), Surrey, England. Mary Ellen Mark

People like Johnny Depp – he’s amazing, and he’s really cooperative – can make the picture for you, but you have to be able to move very quickly. You have to be on top of things, always, and know when to try to catch a picture.

-Mary Ellen Mark


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3 Comments on “Mary Ellen Mark | Seen Behind The Scenes

  1. 1 Christina Rodriguez said at 9:36 pm on June 15th, 2011:

    What beautiful imagery from a truly amazing woman. Dear Mary Ellen Mark may God bless you all the days of your life. You have blessed us the viewer with such insightful vision and dedication to your craft.

    Sincerely,
    Christina Rodriguez
    Photographer and lover of photography

  2. 2 Mark Kalan said at 12:03 pm on July 24th, 2013:

    Fabulous.

  3. 3 Jorge Tripodi said at 7:54 am on November 20th, 2013:

    Desde Chile, con enooorme admiracion por transmitir las vivencias de un set de filmacion!!!


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