Mary Ellen Mark
Acrobat with a Dog, 1994
Silver gelatin print
24 x 20 inches
Promised gift of David Horvitz ‘74 and Francie Bishop Good
© Mary Ellen Mark, courtesy of The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation and the Howard Greenberg Gallery
In this portrait, taken by Mary Ellen Mark in Hanoi at the National Circus of Vietnam, a young acrobat sits in her costume and stares boldly into the camera. She confronts Mark, and by extension the viewer with the strength in her gaze and posture, conveying the identity that she has built as a performer. She sits as if holding an acrobatic pose by making her body rigid and by placing her feet delicately on the ground with her left toes rolled under her foot. Her hand, wrapped carefully around the dog, suggests a protective partnership between the acrobat and the dog, although we are unsure of whether or not the dog assisted her in performances. Her strength seems to come from a familiarity with being watched—Mark and the viewers of this portrait are another version of her circus audience. Mark supports this strength by placing the acrobat at the center of a stable pyramidal composition with the use of the circus pedestal. She also subverts what we as viewers expect of a circus environment by photographing backstage and in black and white, which minimizes the theatricality of the circus and the acrobat in pursuit of a unique authenticity. This portrait is one of many taken by Mark of circus performers around the world, each of which leads the viewer to consider how the construction and performance of identity in portraiture magnifies this same construction and performance in the lives of her subjects.
Annika Ostrom ‘20