War 81 by Ellen Mark and The Film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Essay

War 81 by Ellen Mark and The Film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Essay

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In 1975 Mary Ellen Mark, an up and coming photojournalist, was assigned by The Pennsylvania Gazette to work on a story about the making of the film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, based off of the famous novel by Ken Kesey. The film was being shot at the Oregon State Hospital, a mental institution. It was because Mark was the still photographer on the film set that she was able to gain access to Ward 81, the only locked hospital security ward for women. The women in Ward 81 were considered to “be dangerous to themselves or to others” (Jacobs). Mark and Karen Folger Jacobs, a writer, were given permission to stay an extended amount of time at Ward 81. They spent a total of 36 days in Ward 81 getting to know the women that resided there (goodreads.com). Mark spent her time there photographing and befriending the women that were patients there. Even thought Mary Ellen Mark was known for being a photojournalist she argued that these images were never meant to be documentary, but pieces of art.
The photo’s Mark captured of these women they are undeniably pieces of art. Each one is beautifully composed, has just the right amount of contrast, and is tack sharp. Not only that, but Mark used the natural light to her advantage, producing stunningly lit images for such a dismal place. During her time there Mark only used 35mm cameras, wide-angel and normal lenses (Bailey). Mary Ellen Mark’s book Ward 81 was published in 1979 after Mark worked through the 200 rolls of film, and eventually held six solo exhibits (Stoots). The book is filled with 97 photographs of portraits of the women from Ward 81 Mark and Jacobs got to know, and some photographs of the treatments these women underwent. The photographs are accompanied by Jacob’s short a...


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...centrates more on the patients daily lives rather then what the asylum does to the women, how she hid the women’s real names, and the fact that her work did not really effect the women’s lives to a great extent. But she nonetheless showed us a world unseen to many. She revealed disturbing practices done at the asylum. Her photos essentially became documents of Ward 81 that no longer exists. Mark’s “intimate glimpse of life in confinement turned out to be affecting,” she changed the way some viewed the mentally ill, and the asylum. And they untimely had an effect of the shutting down of Ward 81 in November of 1977 (Jacobs). Many articles and essays about Ward 81 usually reference Mark’s work as documentary (Fulton). Even though Mark strived for Art, she also left a documentary footprint in history. Ward 81 ultimately must be viewed as both artistic and documentary.


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