Monday, June 29, 2015


The acclaimed and prolific American photographer Mary Ellen Mark, who died May 25 at the age of 75, was known for her humanist portraits: homeless children in Seattle, prostitutes in India, a family living out of their car. In 1990, she took one of her most memorable shots, titled, "Amanda and her cousin Amy." The location is listed as Valdese, N.C.

In light of Mark's passing, NPR sought to find out more about the two children in the photograph, particularly Amanda: Why was she smoking and wearing makeup and fake nails at age 9? What does she remember of the photo shoot? And what has happened since that sunny afternoon in 1990?
She now goes by Amanda Marie Ellison — her surname was Minton at the time of the photo. She is 34 years old, lives in Lenoir, N.C., and indeed still remembers the photo.

"Never forgotten it. Never in my life have I forgotten it," she says.

Ellison openly concedes she was a "wild" child, but she says she was just emulating the adults in her life, all of whom by her memory were drug-addicted, residing in a low-income housing complex nicknamed "Sin City." It was around that time that she began to smoke.
"If I couldn't get [cigarettes], if somebody wouldn't give them to me, yes, I'd steal a pack of cigarettes and be gone," she says. "I'd sit in the woods and smoke 'til they were gone."

By her own admission, Ellison's adulthood is still tumultuous. She has served time in prison and says she is still "surrounded by crazy people and drugs." But she says her life has improved, and she wishes she could talk again with "that photographer lady."
"If I had to guess," Ellison says, "I would say she would be, I don't know, overwhelmed with joy that I have made it this far."


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