By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The mission in her movie work is always to make her subjects look good, and real, she says. Heavy post-production and retouching typical of modern pop-culture magazines are of no interest to her at all. And Mark’s preferred medium of late is the 20-by-24-inch Polaroid instant camera, which renders the “unfamous” and her movie-star subjects in equal measures of crisp, lifelike detail.
Hollywood could even feed into her personal work. She learned lessons in lighting from watching master cinematographers like Vittorio Storaro and Conrad Hall. And shooting on the set of Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest led to a monthlong project in 1976 at the mental hospital used in the film. Mark moved into Ward 81, the maximum-security women’s quarters, documenting the patients as individuals, not freaks. She spent a month there, earning the trust of the patients, photographing their lives, traumas and fleeting moments of peace.
That kind of serious, difficult work has frequently drawn unwelcome comparisons to Diane Arbus, who shared Mark’s weakness for subjects outside the mainstream, rendered in the abstraction of black and white, in blunt images stripped to the essentials. Mark’s pictures are less distant, more empathetic. So it’s surprising to find in Seen Behind the Scene images from 2006’s Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. But that film’s producer was a friend, and Mark brought out the big Polaroid camera to exaggerate the differences in style, capturing Robert Downey Jr. in character as a man suffering from hypertrichosis, or completely covered in hair.
She also had a session with actress Nicole Kidman as the fictionalized Arbus. Mark was told she would have only five minutes, a typical nightmare scenario for anyone assigned to photograph a major actress. Even Brando gave more time, which was truly strange considering the role Kidman was playing. And yet Mark mentions the time restriction not to complain, but to marvel at how well the actress used it. She arrived in a simple white slip and quietly projected something raw and puzzling into the camera lens. Mark shot five frames and was done.
“She gave me a beautiful moment,” Mark says with a smile. “I’m grateful for the five minutes. I got it. Why do I need more?”
SEEN BEHIND THE SCENE/FORTY YEARS OF PHOTOGRAPHING ON SET | By MARY ELLEN MARK | Phaidon Press | 264 pages | $60 hardcover