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Looking Back at Mary Ellen Mark's Iconic Photos of a Prostitute Named Tiny

Mary Ellen Mark began documenting drug users, vagrants, pimps, and more in Seattle during the 80s. After she met a 13-year-old prostitute named Tiny, her work focused on the young girl for the next 30 years.
All Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark, courtesy of Norton Museum

Mary Ellen Mark is no longer with us, but her images live on. Before her passing in 2015, the photographer was able to complete her final body of work and a new monograph for Aperture titled Tiny: Streetwise Revisited . An extension of a project Mark began in the early 80s, these photographs document pimps, prostitutes, vagrants, and drug users and pushers in the Seattle area. The project narrowed its focus, however, when she met Tiny (Erin Charles), a 13-year-old prostitute who talked of wanting diamonds and a horse farm. For Mark, Tiny became a 30-year focus of turmoil and intrigue that became integral to her artistic practice.


Currently at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, Tiny: Streetwise Revisited is an exhibition of images that pull directly from Mark's lengthy relationship with Tiny. What starts off as a portrait of a young girl with big dreams progresses over the years into a life that's fallen apart through drugs, abuse, ten children, and other turmoil.

"Will they make it?" asks Tim Wride, one of the curators at the Norton Museum, in reference to the subjects Mark capture on film. "Probably not. Is that the point? Probably not. At the same time, I think there is an optimistic edge that was so crucial to show with this body of work."

Tiny: Streetwise Revisited, both in show and publication, is as much a social documentation as it is fine art. Both Aperture and the exhibition's treatment of Mark's photos nurtures this sentiment, as well as another: The work isn't about a happy story or even inspiring one, but it's a damn good one nonetheless.

Tiny and Pat, along the road, 1993

Tiny, Halloween, Seattle, 1983

Tiny and J'Lisa on the couch, 2014

Tiny pregnant with Daylon, 1985

Tiny, 1983

Tiny looking out a window in juvenile detention, 1983

'Tiny: Streetwise Revisited' will be on view at the Norton Museum of Art until March 20.

Efrem Zelony-Mindell is a photographer and writer based in New York. You can follow more of his work here.