Mary Ellen Mark, Photographer Who Inspired Seattle documentary “Streetwise,” dies at age 75

(the above link takes you to an obituary for Mary Ellen Mark, which includes the LIFE Magazine photo-essay,”Streets of the Lost”)

(watch complete movie “Streetwise,” for free by clicking above link)

“Pixote” was the first Brazilian movie I saw that wasn’t a sex comedy.  I was completely taken in by its realistic atmosphere and heartbreaking depiction of the miserable street life of abandoned  children.  But I few years later I saw “Streetwise,” a documentary inspired by by photographer Mary Ellen Mark’s Life magazine photo essay, “Streets of the Lost.”  Unlike “Pixote,” this  film about Seattle runaways  didn’t deal so explicitly with their sordid adventures in survival.Instead, it showed us the way the world looked to these kids, emphasizing that  these were real children who played like children even when circumstances made them deal with adult realities.  “Pixote”  was more of an exploitation  film,  rubbing our noses in the criminal exploits of cold-blooded youngsters whose lives were without value.  But we rooted for the kids in “Streetwise,”  who created their own society on the streets out of a need for love and a true affection for each other. The camera did not present them to us as a freak show or social problem, but as children who never lost the joy of childhood even in their most private sadness.

Like Terrence Malick’s “Badlands,”  which insisted that even a serial killer on the run enjoyed the natural beauties of the world, “Streetwise” reminds us that the sun rises and sets on us all, and that the joy of life infuses every breath that is taken under the heavens. “Pixote” uses misery to awaken us to social ills. “Streetwise” looks at the wounded of the world through the eyes of love, which are the very eyes through which they, the unfortunate, forgotten ones, look at each other, holding each other tightly, making homes from abandoned shelters, living in the same world as the rich and seeing with the same eyes.


2 thoughts on “Mary Ellen Mark, Photographer Who Inspired Seattle documentary “Streetwise,” dies at age 75

  1. Great tribute, Bill. There’s an authenticity in the documentary you linked. I hadn’t heard of her. As you say, this isn’t a freak show. Just real kids who lost their way or chose to live it by their own terms which makes them heroic. I wonder where they are now?


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