Hail, Mary Ellen

For thirty years Mary Ellen Mark has made her name as a documentary photographer by not shying away from tough assignments, whether that means traveling for six months in India to shoot circus folk or infiltrating the world of runaway kids in Seattle. Chronicling life at Abilene’s House of Yahweh (see “ Happy Doomsday ,”) proved to have its own difficulties. “Everything was a negotiation,” says the New Yorker, who has published ten books of photographs and has been published in periodicals ranging from the New York Times Magazine to Paris Match (her Texas Monthly credits include a March 1992 photo essay on the rodeo). “I was only shown the people they wanted me to see.” That didn’t include the cult’s leader, Yisrayl Hawkins. “He would not allow me to photograph him,” Mark says. “I did everything I could to convince him, but I couldn’t. I was told he wasn’t even on the premises. Which was weird: I swear I looked backstage once during a service I attended and saw Yisrayl Hawkins looking at me. Then he moved on. If it wasn’t him, it was his spirit.”

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