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Mary Ellen Mark in the Wall Street Journal's On Photography

Tiny is here; curator Melissa Harris could hardly have left out the girl who is Mary Ellen Mark’s best-known subject. The photographer first met Erin Blackwell—Tiny—in 1983, when she was a 13-year-old prostitute living on the streets of Seattle. Mark stayed in touch with Tiny, as she did with many of her subjects, and photographed her repeatedly over the next 30 years. “Tiny blowing a bubble (during ‘Streetwise’), Seattle” (1983) shows her from the shoulders up in her Halloween costume, a simple black dress and a pillbox hat with a veil. The tension between the young girl in the sophisticated outfit and her juvenile bubble gum is quintessential Mark.


Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) made a career of photographing people at the margins of society: circus performers in India, prostitutes in Bombay and Nepal, the homeless Damm family in California. Mark photographed them with empathy, but without sentimentality, and captured those quirks—the attitude—that individuated them. Ms. Harris includes portraits Mark shot with a Polaroid camera that takes 30-by-22-inch prints, three from her series of couples at high-school proms, and three of her studies of twins. Among the celebrities are “Clayton Moore, the Former ‘Lone Ranger,’ Los Angeles, California” (1992), who sits in costume on a living-room sofa, and “Mother Teresa at the Home for the Dying, Mother Teresa’s Missions of Charity, Calcutta, India” (1980).