Tiny: Streetwise Revisited by Mary Ellen Mark

I first read about photographer Mary Ellen Mark in this New York Times article, and I was fascinated with the single image shown in the story, of a young girl dressed for Halloween in a chic black dress, gloves, and veiled hat. The girl’s eyes and expression caught me off guard, and I was struck by her obvious sadness, unhidden even behind her costume. A bit of research led me to Mary Ellen Mark’s book, Tiny: Streetwise Revisited, and I’ve spent the last few days reading and lingering over its photographs.

Mary Ellen Mark, along with her husband Martin Bell, a filmmaker, first began following Tiny and her friends, a group of homeless Seattle teenagers, in the mid-1980s. The joint photography and film project led to the completion of Streetwise, a series of portraits and an award-winning film. Mark and her husband formed a close relationship with Tiny and continued to follow her for decades, as she struggled with poverty and drug addiction while raising ten children. Last year, Mary Ellen Mark passed away, but shortly before her death, the new book was published with additional photos and captions that offer glimpses of Tiny’s life. ┬áIt’s a beautiful exploration of one young girl’s painful transformation into adulthood, and both Mark and Bell carefully documented Tiny’s experiences in caring and non-judgmental ways.

Coming full circle, Martin Bell recently released Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, with additional footage from the original Streetwise film and further exploration of Tiny’s life. I hope to eventually see the first film, as well as this new iteration. The entire project became the life’s work of both Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell, and their enduring friendship with Tiny, the main subject, is fascinating. Three different people from very different backgrounds and experiences found each other along the way and grabbed hold, and that’s a story worth sharing.

And right now, as we’re mourning the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, it’s difficult for a lot of us to find the right words to express our feelings. Leah, my blog friend, made a lovely and brave attempt, and it’s also worth sharing.

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