There are those whose own vulgar normality is so apparent and stultifying that they strive to escape it. They affect flamboyant behavior and claim originality according to the fashionable eccentricities of their time. They claim brains or talent or indifference to mores in desperate attempts to deny their own mediocrity. –Katherine Dunn, Geek Love
Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, is pleased to present Indian Circus, an exhibition of vintage platinum prints by the renowned American photographer Mary Ellen Mark. Taken and produced between 1982 and 1992, this series explores the circus world in-depth in a manner that predecessors like August Sander have previously employed but with a bit more of a modern sensibility, touching on moments of tenderness and humanity coupled with what some would consider the grotesque. “There are murmurs in India that the circus and its lively universe of men and animals, discipline and whimsy, may not survive another generation. Its nemesis is the television set. The big top's last great boom came in the early 1960s, before India was plugged into the global village, when the circus was still a small town's much-awaited window to the outside world.” says David van Biema in a 1991 Life Magazine article on the series. It is this humanistic portrayal of the inner circle of entertainers and their family bonds that first drew Mary Ellen Mark’s attention in 1969 during her first trip to India. The performers, usually children and animals, comprise this tightly-knit family and hard-working community of individuals who otherwise would be left to their own devices, more often than not out on the street.
Recognized as one of the most respected and influential photographers of our time, Mark is a contributing photographer to The New Yorker and has published photo-essays and portraits in such publications as LIFE, New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair. For over four decades, she has traveled extensively to make pictures that reflect a high degree of humanism. A photo essay on runaway children in Seattle became the basis of the Academy Award-nominated film Streetwise (1984), directed and photographed by her husband, Martin Bell. She also served as associate producer for Bell's motion picture, American Heart (1992). Mary Ellen Mark is the recipient of numerous awards including a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Walter Annenberg Grant and the Hasselblad Foundation Grant among others. Photographs by Mark have been exhibited in museums internationally and her work is held in the collections of over forty major museums worldwide including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, the Ludwig Museum, the Bibliotecque Nationale, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the Seattle Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. Mark is currently having a solo exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Mary Ellen Mark has published sixteen books, including: Passport (Lustrum Press, 1974), Ward 81 (Simon & Schuster, 1979), Falkland Road (Knopf, 1981), Mother Teresa’s Mission of Charity in Calcutta (Friends of Photography, 1985), The Photo Essay: Photographers at Work (A Smithsonian series), Streetwise (second printing, Aperture, 1992), Mary Ellen Mark: 25 Years (Bulfinch, 1991), Indian Circus (Chronicle, 1993 and Takarajimasha Inc., 1993), Portraits (Motta Fotografica, 1995 and Smithsonian, 1997), A Cry for Help (Simon & Schuster, 1996), Mary Ellen Mark: American Odyssey (Aperture, 1999), Mary Ellen Mark 55 (Phaidon, 2001), Photo Poche: Mary Ellen Mark (Nathan, 2002), Twins (Aperture, 2003), Exposure (Phaidon, 2005), Extraordinary Child (The National Museum of Iceland, 2007), and Seen Behind the Scene (Phaidon,2009).
Mary Ellen Mark lives in New York City and lectures and teaches workshops at various universities and cultural institutions.