Remembering Mary Ellen Mark, the photographer who immortalized Seattle’s street youth


“I’m interested in people who aren’t the lucky ones, who maybe have a tougher time surviving, and telling their story” – Mary Ellen Mark

When we think of Seattle and the movies we usually start with the box office hits like You’ve Got Mail or Singles that were shot in Seattle and prominently feature our fair city but it is the documentary Streetwise, that grew out of a LIFE magazine piece by the noted photographer Mary Ellen Mark, that provides us with one of the most powerful film depictions of the Emerald City.

From the preface:

In April 1983 reporter Cheryl McCall and I traveled to Seattle, Washington, to do an article for LIFE Magazine on runaway children. One of the reasons we chose Seattle was because it is known as “America’s most livable city.” Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York were well known for their street kids. By choosing America’s ideal city we were making the point “If street kids exist in a city like Seattle then they can be found everywhere in America, and we are therefore facing a major social problem of runaways in this country.


Seattle is a beautiful city. We spent our first few days driving around the downtown area looking for places where the kids might hang out

Shot by her husband and bankrolled by Willie Nelson (yes, that Willie Nelson) Streetwise chronicles the struggles of a group of homeless teens. Following kids with names like Tiny, Lulu, and Rat through the streets of Seattle Streetwise gives us a no holds barred look at life on the streets.

Mary Ellen Mark died this past weekend at 75.

Coming this fall Aperture is releasing Streetwise Revisited, an expanded edition of the classic monograph featuring many never before seen images of Tiny, one of the original street kids that Mark has maintained contact with since the early 1980’s when the project first began.

Here is the film in its entirety:


Pre order the book.

Remembering the photographer who shot Seattle’s street youth | Dazed