Mary Ellen Mark is a renowned, award-winning photographer. Her work has spanned over 40 years with exhibits all over the world including “Leica: My First Camera” that premiered at the opening of Leica Store and Gallery Los Angeles in June 2013 and is now on display at Leica Store Washington DC.
Currently, Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell, her husband, have a Kickstarter campaign to fund a film revisiting Erin “Tiny” Blackwell, 30 years after the making of the Academy Award nominated documentary “Streetwise.”
Q: When was the first time you ever put your hands on a Leica camera?
A: I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania where I majored in painting and fine arts and then I got a scholarship to the Annenburg School for Communication. At that time it was more of an arts school. You could take a course in film making or television production. The school was started by Walter Annenburg and it had incredible state of the art modern equipment in all fields available to students. If you took photography they had any camera you could imagine working with available for you to borrow. There were Leicas and Rolleiflexes and Retinas, just everything you might need. If you took film making they gave you a budget to make a film and they had everything, Arriflex and Bolexes, etc. They had a television studio downstairs. And in photography, they gave you all the paper and film you needed. It was amazing. It was like a little paradise.
I always loved photography, so I decided to major in photography. I remember the first time I went out on the street with a camera. I started with the less expensive camera – the Retina. Then I tried a Rollei and it was heavier but intriguing. I tried to take an architectural photograph and I dropped it over the bannister of the school. I was humiliated. I had to pay to have it fixed. It was expensive. I tried the Leica and I loved it immediately. That summer I went to Europe and photographed and I took a Leica with me. The Leica was my first street camera. I’ve worked with Leica for years and years and years. I know it really well. It is still a great camera. I still work with it today.