October 2005
Interviews by Michelle Golden and Jason Skog
Photo Editor: Jeanine Fijol

When we talk about the power of photography, we are usually referring to the medium's effect on viewers. But photos also have an impact on their subjects. In this article we talk to the subjects of some well-known images about their sudden fame, the experience of being photographed, and what it feels like to become a symbol that is scrutinized and studied by thousands of strangers.


Mary Ellen Mark's 1983 picture of Erin "Tiny" Charles was first published in LIFE magazine for a story about teenage runaways in Seattle and later landed on the cover of Mark's book “Streetwise”. In 1984, Mark and her husband, filmmaker Martin Bell, directed a documentary based on the essay, also called "Streetwise," which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1985. The image of Tiny appeared on the movie's poster.


I first met Mary Ellen and Martin [Bell, Mary Ellen Mark's husband] at this club called The Monastery [in Downtown Seattle]. I happened to be high off of weed and Mary Ellen was trying to talk to me, and at first I thought they were the police, so I was kind of rude to them. And the next day I saw them and apologized and we started talking and they said they wanted to do a story for LIFE magazine and asked if I wanted to be in the photographs and I said "yes."

We did this shot one day around Halloween. I'm not really sure what I was dressed up as...everyone thought maybe a hooker. [laughs].

I like it. Mary Ellen does really good pictures. She always liked the straight, serious look. She doesn't like a lot of smiling because it's more natural when you look serious. I was always the type that liked to smile, though, so it was kind of hard to pose without smiling.

A few months after the photos, they came back to Washington to do the movie. I've kept in contact with them ever since.

I didn't think the movie was going to be as popular as it was. I didn't think it was going to be nominated for awards and stuff. I got to go to New York and sign autographs for the poster and did a couple of talk shows.

After the movie came out, like five years later, I had someone come up to me and tell me how much they liked the movie and asked how I was doing. But I don't get recognized much anymore because I've changed quite a bit. I gained weight [laughs]. And I don't go downtown or go to clubs anymore.  I don't hang out like that, because I've changed my life around.


Mary Ellen and Martin just came here in December. I love it when they come around. They're like my second set of parents that I never had. They were supposed to come and film me having my ninth baby but (the baby) came kind of early. They still came and did interviews and photos and stuff. They're putting together pictures and interviews I've done throughout the years with them.