Seen Behind the Scene

Photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark catches Hollywood at work with her photographs from the sets of more than 100 movies.

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(To see images from this and other photo books reviewed by the Monitor, click here.) There’s something ironic (and wonderful) about documentary photographs of the make-believe, temporary worlds created on movie sets. Seen Behind the Scene by preeminent photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark (Phaidon Press, 264 pp., $59.95) is a collection of her black-and-white backstage photos.

These stills are from the more than 100 movies she has worked on, including titles like “Apocalypse Now,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Tootsie,” “On Golden Pond,” and, most recently, “Australia.”

One of the pleasures of this book is the chance to see well-known actors – Johnny Depp, Jessica Lange, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Marlon Brando – in unguarded moments, safe in the environment in which they work and being photographed by someone they trust.

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Most of us are accustomed to seeing celebrities either in glossy, posed photos, or shrinking from the paparazzi’s lens. Mark’s photographs, instead, offer glimpses of the people behind the stars.

Mark was hired to do publicity and advertising shots, but “Seen Behind the Scene” also includes her candid shots, gems like a series of shots of Dustin Hoffman clowning around behind Laurence Olivier during the filming of “Marathon Man.”

Or the legendary Frederico Fellini on the set of “Satyricon,” seen silhouetted in front of an empty stage with a megaphone to his mouth. Fellini’s body language as he stands alone performing his job suggests a man who loves his work.

Moviemaking may seem an unusual subject for a photographer better known for her incisive work on the poor and eccentric. But Mark uses her unique eye to allow us to experience a film set in the same way that she helps us understand the rest of the world.

The book is enhanced by essays written by some of her subjects that take us further inside the world of filmmaking. Don’t miss, for instance, Helen Mirren’s description of heading off to a night shoot just as everyone else is coming home from a day’s work.

Mirren compares the set to a gypsy encampment, with the lighted space where the camera meets the actor as the focus of it all. “[T]he feeling of magic and privilege never leaves me,” she writes.

Melanie Stetson Freeman is a Monitor staff photographer.

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