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Forty Years of Photographing On Set

Who said black and white is dead?  It’s alive with contrast and nuance in Mary Ellen Mark’s SEEN BEHIND THE SCENE.  Shooting in black and white film - Mark hits the mark.  An award winning master photographer, her books range from socially conscious photo essays such as a mental hospital series in Oregon to an exploration of identical twins from all walks of life. Not excluding color, she has also exhibited vivid chromatic stories on brothels and acrobats in India, as well as other diverse assignments – including many books in a thought-provoking productive career.

This new book in black and white shows Mark’s storytelling skills - shooting stills on motion picture sets. Spicy anecdotes by directors like James Ivory and Mike Nichols, actors like Candace Bergen, Jeff Bridges, Donald Sutherland, and Jessica Lange. Screenwriters, cinematographers, costume designers and producers have their say too.

Stories spliced in with the photos begin with a shot of the cinematographer, Conrad Hall, taken by Mark in Tahiti, 1974. In a eulogy to Hall, Director, Sam Mendes said: “Above all, he was a man who understood the power of light and knew how to harness it: soft or hard, cruel or tender, unsettling or calming, exposing or mysterious… “ 

Mark writes: “Before the advent of the video assist, a director’s reactions and interactions during rehearsals and takes were wonderful to photograph.”  Behind the scenes, Mark caught the drama of an extra rehearsing for a Fellini film.  She also shot Fellini in a comic mood cycling on a child’s bike on the set. (1973)

mark fellini 2

An observed portrait of Martin Sheen looking haunted while taking a break on the set of Apocalypse Now.  On the same set, Marlon Brando put a beetle on his head.  It’s a composition in black and white ovals and circles – the shaved white baldhead, the oval black beetle; the round black pupils outlined by the white of the eyes; the gray of the oval foliage echoes the beetle’s shape, and the round wristwatch is as bright as Brando’s head. (1979)

mark sheen
mark brando

A double portrait shows Dustin Hoffman sneaking up on Laurence Olivier to break the tension during shooting Marathon Man. (1976)

mark olivier

Cinematographer, Billy Williams, checks the light for a shot of Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond, composed of verticals and diagonals. (1981)

mark hepburn

A shadowy double portrait of Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche in costume as smug manipulators in Trading Places. (1983)

mark ameche bellamy
Woody Allen stands apart from Mia Farrow, both serious, intense and quizzical on the set of Shadows and Fog. (1992)

 mark allen farrow

Actor Christopher Reeve with his wife Dana, NY, 1999. (The lament of a Superman)

mark reeve
A stylist checks Johnny Depp’s hair against a Polaroid. (Behind the scenes sharpened in black and white by Mark’s technique.) Sleepy Hollow. (1999)
mark depp
Filming a battle scene Planet of the Apes, the producers Richard D. and Lili Zanuck write that a crew is a family, that they make decisions as a team, get up early, work late… all for the same goal of making a good movie. (2001)

  mark apes zanuck

Beginning with an alphabetical index, one can easily flip around to a favorite shot, scene or story.   Seen Behind the Scene works on many levels – the compelling photos (many not shown due to double page spreads), the drama of action behind the scenes, the complexity of movie making, and each individual short essay written with candor, wit and humor – altogether a special experience.
mark conrad hall
mark fellini 1
mark rooney

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Great article and pictures

Phyllis Golding


Excellent article about a photographer I was not familiar with but will look into now.
t/hanks. Phyllis
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