Mary Ellen

This post is also available in: Spanish

Isabel asked me to post this on the blog about her friend Mary Ellen Mark.

Lori Barra, Mary Ellen Mark, Isabel Allende & Ina Bernstein in New York Christmas 2014 © Nicole Frias

Lori Barra, Mary Ellen Mark, Isabel Allende & Ina Bernstein in New York Christmas 2014
© Nicole Frias

Today I say goodbye to a beloved friend, and extraordinary artist, the renowned photographer Mary Ellen Mark. In the short time we knew each other, I came to love her deeply and now I regret that I never told her so.

Mary Ellen was a force. And I admired every breath of that strong, courageous, gutsy energy she had.  She demanded  much of  her friends and her students, but she demanded of herself much more.  She expected nothing less than perfection from her work every single day. And she achieved that.

She believed deeply in the humanity in each of us and in the ever-loving healing power of all dogs, big and small. I still wish I could have brought my high-maintenance pup, Dulce, to meet her in NY. They would have loved each other.

She observed and listened with her whole being. Through her work, Mary Ellen Mark taught her students and friends to pay attention to the world with an open heart. She gave each person she photographed back the precious gift of seeing themselves with compassion. The photographs she took of my family in December are among my greatest treasures. We were unaware of it that day in the studio but she saw something in each of us and in our relationship to each other that is only now becoming clear to me. She saw and touched our souls. Not to mention we all look like movie stars; I don’t know how she achieved that miracle. In a decade or so my grandchildren will appreciate these pictures as an important part of their legacy, something to cherish forever. I am sure they will remember that Sunday photo shoot with much gratitude. And in two decades or so, when Willie and I will not be in this world, my descendants will look at Mary Ellen’s photographs and think that they had very interesting grandparents.

Family Portrait and Isabel Allende ©Mary Ellen Mark

Family Portrait and Isabel Allende ©Mary Ellen Mark 2015

I so often hear Lori, my daughter-in-law, say that Mary Ellen believed in her and through her generous teachings gave her back her creative voice. For Lori, who attended Mary Ellen’s workshops every year, that has been one of the greatest gifts of her life.

Mary Ellen Mark  lived fully with passion and humor and grace until her last day on earth. We, the privileged ones that got to participate in her unique world of images and stories, will love her forever.



Mary Ellen, Isabel and Ina


Lori, Ina, Mary Ellen and Jodi


Ina, Isabel and Mary Ellen in New York October 2012

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