The photography world lost a giant in the field when Mary Ellen Mark died in May. Known for her portraiture and documentary projects, Mark was a thoughtful photographer, uncovering the vulnerability in her subjects while giving them dignity. In her lifetime she produced 18 books, the last of which was Tiny: Streetwise Revisited.
“Streetwise,” which was published in 1988, grew from a Life magazine assignment focusing on runaway youth in Seattle. Mark was compelled to continue the assignment and focus on Erin “Tiny” Blackwell. Tiny was 13 years old when Mark first met her, living on the streets, resorting to prostitution to escape an unstable home life.
Despite tough circumstance, the images such as “Tiny at the amusement park with ‘Horsey,’ ” taken in 1983, show Tiny as a young girl, in many ways, with dreams of the future.
“I want to be really rich ... and live on a farm with a bunch of horses, which is my main best animal ... and have three yachts or more ... and diamonds and jewels and all that stuff,” Tiny told Mark, who quoted her in the book.
The original “Streetwise” was released along with a film by Mark’s husband, Martin Bell, that focused on the experiences of Tiny and her friends as they moved through life on the streets of Seattle.
Tiny: Streetwise Revisited” displays the remarkable continuation of Tiny’s story as Mark went back to photograph her over the next 30 years. Through struggles with addiction and motherhood the viewer watches Tiny and her family mature and grow, with glimpses of the girl Tiny was still shining through. Mark’s patience and dedication to the story as well as her compassion and connection with Tiny are clearly visible in these thoughtful images. The body of work on display here is a true testament to the dedicated humanitarian photographer Mark was.
Ann Hermes is a Monitor staff photographer.