Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark is one of the most respected and influential photographers in the world and, when it comes to music, she’s a true romantic. Mary Ellen takes us on a musical tour of her entire life - from her time as head cheerleader in high school, to the Fulbright scholarship that launched her love of travel, and her passion for teaching photography in Mexico.
For more:

1. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes - The Platters
2. Yesterday - The Beatles
3. If I have To Go - Tom Waits
4. Cucurrucucu Paloma - Napolean
5. Skylark - Hoagy Carmichael

Valida: Hi I’m Valida and I’m here with Mary Ellen Mark, one of the most respected and influential photographers in the world. Today, we’re going to play excerpts of songs she selected that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. What did you bring for us today?

Mary Ellen Mark: Do you want to start with the Platters?

V: Yeah, The Platters and the song is called “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”.

MEM: Well the Platters and that song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” reminds me of my high school days and romantic dancing. I went to Chatham High school in Philadelphia and I was just your All-American high school girl. I was the head cheerleader.  
That songs makes me think of, I had a mad crush on a boy named Smoothie. He invited me to the prom and I went to prom with him. We were dancing, and I remember he blew in my ear and I thought ‘wow’. Then he took me home and he kissed me goodnight. And then he never called me again. And I was heartbroken . So “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” reminds me of Smoothie, just like the song.

Song: The Platters -- “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”

V: Is it mainly the lyrics or the music that capture your….?

MEM: Well both. I mean the music and the lyrics. It’s just beautiful, beautiful melody and beautiful words. It’s heartbreaking. I’m just like a romantic fool. I am. I’m a sucker for very melodic, romantic songs. And that one’s really, really beautiful. It brings back all kinds of memories of the sad moments and the very happy moments of my high school years. It’s a song that lasts forever.

V: That was “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters and it’s the choice our guest DJ, the award-winning photographer Mary Ellen Mark. What’s your next choice Mary?
MEM: My next choice is “Yesterday.” A Lennon-McCartney song. And it reminds me of my Fulbright scholarship to Turkey, because that was my first long travel as a photographer. And that song was playing constantly. And even after Turkey when I went to India and photographed the circus, or anywhere I went, I would think of that song, because it reminded me of the first time I discovered photography and I traveled.

Song: The Beatles – “Yesterday”

V: Tell us a little bit about discovering photography.

MEM: I discovered photography when I was in college. I went to University of Pennsylvania. I was a Fine Arts major. Then I went to the Annenberg School and I discovered photography at the Annenberg School. Once I picked up a camera there was just no other choice for me. I found what I wanted to do. I found my life’s work. I still love photography and I am still an analog photographer. I still shoot with film and I still love to travel and to take pictures.

V: You just heard “Yesterday” by the Beatles the choice of our Guest DJ. Mary, tell us what your next choice is.

MEM: Well my next choice is by Tom Waits. And it’s a song called “If I Have To Go”.  Originally we first heard this song when Martin made a film called Streetwise -- Martin’s my husband -- and Tom wrote a song for Streetwise called “Take Care of All of My Children”.  
Then Arlene Rothberg asked him “oh come on, play ‘If I Have to Go’” and he played it. This is the recording. I think you’re hearing the first time he recorded that song. And we were just all so astounded when we heard this song. It was so absolutely beautiful. It’s not actually used in the film, but I always associate it with Streetwise. And it is such a beautiful, beautiful song, and I love the music of Tom Waits. So, it’s something that not only reminds me of the film Streetwise but it also, it’s Tom, it’s so Tom, this song. It’s beautiful.  

Song: Tom Waits – “If I Have To Go”

V: You just heard “If I Have To Go” by Tom Waits. It’s the choice of our Guest DJ, award-winning Photographer Mary Ellen Mark. So let’s get into your fourth song by Jose Maria Napoleon. What is this song?

MEM: It’s “Cucurrucucu Paloma”. It was a strange choice. It’s very kind of… the lyrics are almost corny, but the melody is absolutely beautiful. It’s about a lamenting Dove. It’s a love song and it’s Mexican. It’s written by Thomas Mendez and it is sung by Napoleon. Napoleon is a local night club singer in Oaxaca, and I teach photography in Oaxaca. I’ve taught there for 17 years. And I love Mexico, it’s a beautiful, beautiful place. And I love Oaxaca, especially. So that’s really why I chose it. And also Napoleon has a really beautiful voice.

Song: Jose Maria Napoleon  - “Cucurrucucu Paloma”

V: “Cucurrucucu Paloma”, a pick of our guest DJ Mary Ellen Mark. Ok, so let’s go to our very last track. What did you pick as your final track, Mary?

MEM: Well I picked -- my God, I’m going to seem so ancient with my picks -- I picked “Skylark” sung by Hoagy Carmichael, who wrote it actually. He wrote it in 1942. It’s a beautiful song. And I picked it because just recently Martin Bell, my husband, made a film on prom and we’ve been traveling all over the country for 4 years photographing prom. We gave a lot of thought to what kind of music we were going to use and this was one of the songs we considered, but we didn’t end up using it, but it’s one of my favorite songs. It’s just beautiful and the way he sings it is absolutely beautiful.  

Song: Hoagy Carmichael – “Skylark”

V: So how does this song remind you of prom? Curious…

MEM: Well, again, another romantic song. Very different from the Platters. But still, it just reminds me of a song that you would dance to.

V: With someone you love?

MEM: With someone that you loved. Or you thought you loved.

V: Right

MEM: Like Smoothie.  

V: “Skylark” by Hoagy Carmichael. Mary thanks so much for joining us on KCRW.

MEM: Well thank you. I’m really honored to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

V: For a complete tracklisting and to find these songs online go to