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In 1983 Mary Ellen Mark began photographing a group of fiercely independent homeless and troubled youth who were making their way on the streets of Seattle as pimps, prostitutes, panhandlers, and smalltime drug dealers. Initially published in July of that same year in Life magazine, this work culminated in the 1988 publication Streetwise, and the 1984 documentary film of the same name by Mark’s husband, filmmaker Martin Bell.
Streetwise poignantly introduced several unforgettable children, including Tiny (Tiny was her street name; her given name is Erin Blackwell), who dreamed of a horse farm, diamonds and furs, and having ten children. Since meeting Tiny over thirty years ago, Mary Ellen Mark continued to photograph her, creating what became one of Mark’s most significant and long-term projects.
Tiny: Streetwise Revisited incorporates the most powerful images from Streetwise, and then takes us from thirteen-year-old Tiny to the middle-aged mom of ten we meet today.
Tiny’s story also insists that we consider the roots and cycles of poverty, addiction, and homelessness—and their potentially destructive manifestations and effects: even the safest and most secure family life may suddenly feel terrifyingly vulnerable. An already unstable family situation may implode.
Bell’s landmark film Streetwise is also included in the exhibition. Synergistically, his soon-to-be-released documentary film, TINY: The Life of Erin Blackwell, also weaves together thirty years of at-times devastating footage, including never-before-seen sequences from the filming of Streetwise, to intimately chronicle Erin Blackwell’s complex story. The commitment both Mark and Bell made to narrating Tiny’s life—the very fact of this long-term, ongoing relationship, and the trust it engendered— is in itself extraordinary.
Exhibition texts and captions are drawn from dialogue in both films. The selection of prints for the exhibition was made by Mary Ellen Mark in collaboration with Bell and Aperture editor Melissa Harris before Mark’s death on May 25, 2015.
Tiny: Streetwise Revisited (Aperture, 2016), photographs and afterword by Mary Ellen Mark, with essays by Isabel Allende and John Irving
Attitude: 40 Portraits by Mary Ellen Mark, 1964–2015 at Howard Greenberg Gallery, May 5–June 18, 2016
Renowned photographer Mary Ellen Mark’s (born in Philadelphia, 1940; died in New York, 2015) numerous honors and awards included a Fulbright Scholarship, Guggenheim Fellowship, Cornell Capa Award, and the 2014 Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award from George Eastman House. During her lifetime, her photo-essays and portraits were exhibited worldwide and appeared in numerous publications, including Life, the New York Times Magazine, and the New Yorker. Her photo-essay on runaway children in Seattle became the basis of the Academy Award–nominated film Streetwise, directed and photographed by her husband, Martin Bell, and was published in book form in 1988. Mark published twenty-one books, including American Odyssey (Aperture, 1999), Twins (Aperture, 2003), Exposure (2005), Seen Behind the Scene (2009), Prom (2012), and Tiny: Streetwise Revisited (Aperture, 2015). In addition to producing her own work, Mark taught photography workshops for nearly thirty years; her thoughts on teaching are captured in one of her final titles, Mary Ellen Mark on the Portrait and the Moment (Aperture’s Photography Workshop Series, 2015).
Martin Bell (born 1943) started out as a freelance cinematographer for documentaries and television dramas in his native England before coming to the United States thirty-five years ago. Bell has directed documentaries such as the Academy Award–nominated Streetwise (1984), which followed the lives of runaway kids on the streets of Seattle, and The Amazing Plastic Lady (1993), set in the Indian Circus. He has directed narrative feature films, including Hidden in America (1996), a portrait of a family struggling with poverty, featuring Beau and Jeff Bridges. His film Prom (2010) explores the complex lives of teenagers as they transition from childhood to adulthood, and is a companion piece to his wife Mary Ellen Mark’s photographic project of the same name. Bell recently completed six short films about pediatric healthcare for Novartis, shot in Los Angeles, Ukraine, India, and China. An ongoing film project, A New York Story, aims to capture the energy and resilient spirit of New York City since September 11, 2001.
Special thanks to Chuck Kelton for making the exhibition prints, and to ILFORD for graciously donating the ILFORD MULTIGRADE FB CLASSIC Gloss paper.
Tiny: Streetwise Revisited was made possible, in part, with generous contributions from: Katherine Barfield, Lori Barra, Sherry and Larry Benaroya, Candice Bergen, Rebecca Besson and Stuart B. Cooper, Brooke and Josh Dickson, Maria Eduarda and Ricardo Brito S. Pereira, Marianne Elrick-Manley, Elaine Goldman and John Benis, Wendy and Mark Goldstein, Michael Hoeh, Lynne and Harold Honickman, Heidi Johansen and Daniel Schmeichler, Cathy M. Kaplan, Dr. Andreas Kaufmann and Karin Rehn-Kaufmann, Christina Kim, Alida and Christopher Latham, Anne Stark Locher and Kurt Locher, Chloe Malle, Lauren and Michael Marrus, Marcia and Richard Mishaan, Jessica Nagle and Roland Hartley- Urquhart, Steven Schwartz, Janet and Jerry Shein, Marni Wilkens and Dave Finkel, Alice Sachs Zimet.
Aperture’s exhibitions are funded, in part, by an award from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Charina Endowment Fund, and with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.