Mary Ellen Mark, Photographer, Dies at 75

I came home to this story….

Mary Ellen Mark, one of the premier documentary photographers of her generation, died Monday at age 75.

Mark’s photography spanned decades and her subjects ranged from celebrities to world leaders to those at the fringe of society, including prostitutes, the homeless and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Among her most famous projects is Streetwise, a collection of photographs spanning 30 years in the life of Tiny Blackwell, a prostitute and heroin addict Mark met in the 1980s when Tiny was 14. Mark’s husband Martin Bell directed a documentary about Tiny, and it was nominated for an Academy Award in 1985.

“Mary Ellen had the unique ability to see inside — she was like a snake charmer of the soul,” said friend Kelly Cutrone.

Mark’s work has been shown across the world and she published 19 books throughout her life. She also received three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a World Press Award for Outstanding Body of Work Throughout the Years, and many other awards and distinctions.

A life’s work: Photos by Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark is the woman who created the movie “Streetwise” amongst many other projects. Most of my readers know not only was I in the movie but I lived the life.

Surprisingly there are still about 120 of us kids left, out of about 500+ most if not all of us are left with the scars of merely trying to survive life and whatever crap show our childhood was, that forced us onto the streets.

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Mary Ellen never shared any of the money she made with any of the kids, she had us sign waivers to show us into the movie when as minors we were not even legally able to sign a contract of any nature. She went on to fame but it wasn’t enough, she came back for a second dose to exploit Tiny and the others in a second book. Time-Life never created any programs to help any of us, or any of the child prostitutes they exploited in India.

I was a street fighter, and a hustler. I didn’t have to prostitute but you need to understand that didn’t make me any better then any of those kids who did. I was oddly lucky in the fact that I had rage beyond belief which helped me fight and scared most anyone away from me, the only person I feared was LuLu Couch. Being autistic I have no real pain perception so what I couldn’t do in actual brawn I could in the fact that I didn’t quit fighting til I dropped, and I never dropped.

One time I got into a fight that Seattle PD tried to break up I ended up in Juvy for assaulting 5 officers, but after that they never got in the middle of my fights, ever. They just waited for me to get done and they’d haul me off to Juvy til I got in front of Judge Little. I was probably charged with dozens of felonies but he always ran interference for me, much to the dismay of several cops that adopted me, that to this day I still consider and love as my “Uncles”. It started out as a joke, one cop – Ken Conder told everyone downtown he was my Uncle because he knew that no one would ever completely trust me but they would also not try to pimp me out, or mess with me and that they’d most likely run me off of the streets. Then the prosecutors got into the action and I ended up with 3 “Aunties” up at the King County/Seattle Prosecutor’s office.

I know there is much being written about Judge Little that he was a pervert and he was, he had a thing for little boys, I wasn’t a little boy but spent more then my fair share of days driving down the road in that blue Karmen Ghia listening to him telling me that I was worth something: a pile of crap I didn’t believe for one moment.

For a time I stayed with Guenter Mannhalt of the Donut shop on 1st and Pike, he taught me a work ethic I still carry with me today but he was being a naughty guy and the Feds came and hauled him off leaving me alone on the streets once again. He is now a mild mannered accountant in North Seattle and my kids adore him to this moment.

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Then Judge Little got me into a foster home with a man named Lloyd which started me on my journey off the streets, then he got me into another foster home with a group of men, all gay who gave me more opportunities in life then I could’ve ever imagined, but most importantly they taught me of my worth and taught me how to love again, they taught me to accept others, and about forgiveness.

I was working at an infamous Seattle club called the Monastery during this time too. That got shut down too eventually but it was for a time the only place for streetkids to go to. There was everyone and everything there, drugs were rampant and there was no social lines. There were rich kids from Bellevue, Street kids, Lawyers, Judges, Drag Queens, just about anyone from every walk of life at one time or another entered these doors.

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Then my friends started to disappear, and we got the brilliant idea of starting an Escort Service so that everyone would be safe, meanwhile law enforcement formed the Green River Task Force, and most of those guys adopted me too. We were the only escort service(s) that was registered with the city and that paid taxes and I shared all of the client info with the police dept about once a month.

Then the thing that I was told at 7 yrs old that could never happen: happened to me at 15 yrs old, I was pregnant, my step-father had destroyed my womb but Dr Klekotka had fixed it enough to give me this beautiful creature. I was at work sitting there talking to one perverted freak after another and a thought hit me: What if someone did this to my beautiful little boy? I called all of the workers in, most 5 to 15 yrs my senior and signed over the businesses to them and I left the street life at that point.

I went to college, got married again, and tried to move on with my life and it worked for a while. I would hear about one friend or another who went to prison, or committed suicide by cop, regular suicide, or OD’d. Even worse this Mary Ellen would pop up with some new award, or endeavor and all of it would come flooding back and I would always wonder why so many people sang her praises when all she did was make a movie exploiting kids who were already being abused by every other adult they had come across in life. Now we even have some crazy woman in NY stalking us trying to write a book about us and about things she knows nothing about.

I think it’s time for me to write a book, name names and to tell the real story. Something I can use to start an organization to help street kids instead of digitally pimping them out for my own accolades.

It wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t cute, it wasn’t what any of us “wanted” we had no choice, we were victims of adults who beat, abused, raped and neglected us beyond what most people can wrap their heads around, adults that continued to prey on us whether at home or on the streets.

I had no “choice” I did what I had to do to survive, I am not proud of some of the things I did but I am proud that I survived in spite of every single one of the odds stacked against me. Although I don’t fight with my fists anymore, there is still that spirit that lives inside of me. I don’t back down from a fight, and I never give up. I will also never apologize to anyone, ever, for being here or being me.

I am an adult now, and I have a choice every day, I choose to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves, I choose to share my story so that maybe someone won’t have to endure what I did.

I do not care what people think of me, so I can not be silenced.

 

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I am sorry that Mary Ellen is gone, sorry for the people who are affected by it or are hurting but as for me: I have nothing to grieve.