Extraordinary Children

Photographs document disabilities
January 31, 2010
Top: Emil with Snow on His Eyelashes,

 Emil with Snow on His Eyelashes, Öskjuhlídarskóli, Reykjavik, Iceland 2007. Mary Ellen Mark/Courtesy Center for Documentary Studies

 Alexander at Home with a Paper Bag on His Head, Reykjavik, Iceland 2006. Mary Ellen Mark/Courtesy Center for Documentary Studies.

In the exhibition "Undrabörn/Extraordinary Child," documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark portrays in intimate detail the lives of Icelandic children who are coping with a variety of physical and mental disabilities as they go about their daily activities.

On view through early January at the Center for Documentary Studies, the exhibition is only one of a number of activities surrounding Mark's work that took place over the fall semester, including a conversation with the artist and the screening of Alexander, a film by Mark's husband, Martin Bell. The film, made during the seven weeks that the couple spent in Iceland between 2005 and 2007, was shown at the Nasher in November. The film focuses on one of the children and his family.

The exhibition's images illuminate one of Iceland's core values, an education policy that calls for schools "without differentiation." Still, some parents continue to choose schools that specialize in teaching children with severe learning disabilities, believing that with experienced support and encouragement, their children will gain independence and develop abilities that defy expectations.

Mark, noted for her work in numerous books, exhibitions, and magazines, was also the judge for this year's Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography. The winning book, The Bathers by Jennette Williams, was published in November by Duke University Press, in association with CDS Books of the documentary-studies center.