Yesterday morning I got my first glimpse at a stunning, major art exhibition tucked away safely inside the Seattle Public Library. It's called Streetwise Revisited, and it's 61 photographs from the life of the extraordinary woman Erin Blackwell.
I'm hoping to talk to Blackwell, who first came to public attention in 1983, when photographer Mary Ellen Mark and writer Cheryl McCall published a Life magazine story about Blackwell, or "Tiny," who'd left home, where her mother struggled with alcoholism, and taken to Pike Street, where she became a prostitute and a drug addict, but also a member of a tight-knit community—the kind of family she'd always sought.
Back in those days, Tiny said she wanted to have 10 kids—and damn if she didn't do it. Mark, who sadly died in 2015, and her husband, Martin Bell, who made the film Streetwise after the original Life piece came out, are also family to Blackwell, who still lives locally and who has allowed the photographer and filmmaker remarkable access into her life all the way up until now.
Bell's company, Falkland Road, also made the 2015 follow-up film Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, which will screen at the Central Library on October 14.
These photographs and films are not formulas for solutions to social problems like poverty and homelessness. They are honest, intricate, intimate studies of real lives that never otherwise make it to the big screen. They'll crack open your sternum if you let them.
Over the years, Bell has told the story of coming out of a screening of Streetwise back in 1983 and being told by a kid, "I want to hit someone, but I don't know who."
Seattle Public Library (with partners including the Gates Foundation, Seattle Art Museum, the YWCA/Firesteel, Seattle University's Project on Family Homelessness, Photographic Center Northwest, and Aperture, which loaned the photographs) is hosting an entire season of events around this show, which is up through November 3. There's a kickoff event on September 23 at the Olympic Sculpture Park.
Everyone should see this show. Or "should" sounds too much like this is Good For You, when it's just really engrossing art. Everyone will want to have seen this show.
And everyone can. The Central Library gallery—on the 8th floor—is open and free anytime the library is open. You don't need a library card. You don't need anything.
It's a gift, and now it's up to all of us to keep the gift moving, or else it's pointless. Tell your family and friends.
Two more pictures of Tiny's life now, on the jump.