Where She Is Now

Once the teen star of Streetwise, Tiny's tale is continued after 22 years.

IF YOU HAD TO PICK the most iconic, and still shameful, image in Seattle's movie history, it would be that of "Tiny," the 14-year-old street kid documented by Mary Ellen Mark—impassive eyes veiled, bubble gum in her mouth, arms crossed defensively, dressed like a French hooker for Halloween. First in Mark's 1983 Life magazine photo assignment, then in the Oscar-nominated 1984 documentary Streetwise (directed by Mark's husband, Martin Bell), and later in the book of the same name, Tiny stares back at the lens with adult confidence. She was, during that time, already well acquainted with drugs and prostitution—a girl beyond her years. Yet the marvel of the photos and the film is to reveal the child still within; Tiny and her cohort—Rat, Shadow, Kim, Laurie . . . see how many other names you can remember—roamed the alleys and Dumpsters near Pike Place with an almost playful spirit. Their games and tears and fights and reconciliations would be familiar to any parent; and many, myself certainly included, have often passed through the Market thinking, "Whatever happened to those kids?"

Some are dead (one by the hand of Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer). Some are in jail. Some have disappeared from the record, and others straightened out their lives. But Tiny—now 35, Erin Charles being her current married name—has never lost touch with Mark and Bell, who returned to Seattle most recently for an Aperture magazine shoot two years ago. Now they're visiting for a lecture and exhibit at Photography Center Northwest ("Tiny Over the Years," through Oct. 31) and a Frye Art Museum screening of Erin, Bell's new 23-minute follow-up to Streetwise (which will also be shown).

Charles herself will attend the latter event, which spares you from assuming the worst about her fate. She may even answer some questions, as she did last week while preparing to move from a South End apartment she shares with her husband and six of her nine children to a larger house. Over the phone, she sounded weary and relieved at the prospect, like any mother. It has "a big huge yard, must be an acre," she says. "The kids can go outside and play now. They're in here, and they're cramped and screaming and fighting all the time. I'm pulling my hair out."

The move also means a better neighborhood for her family. Charles, clean for seven years, says, "I live right in the heart of the drug area. I see it every day. I've had to shoo people away out of my hallway for doing drugs and drinking. I'm OK with the stuff being around me that I don't do anymore. A lot of people can't do that. A [recovering] drug addict usually has a really, really hard time" in such an environment.

Though she rarely goes back to watch Streetwise—"I don't like looking at myself too much!" she laughs—Charles has viewed Bell's new short film, and sees in it a very different person: "My life changed, quite a bit, from when I was young and running around, no kids. I'm tied down [now], have responsibility. Being married and having kids and being an at-home mom is fine. But I wanted more out of life." I mention how Mark said of her from New York, "She's definitely in better shape. She's more self-assured. She's more powerful. She has more structure in her life."

Does Charles now have the same self-assessment? "Yeah, definitely, because I made it through. I met a lot of people that died or haven't made it and are still out there" on the streets. "I'm glad I have my kids. I'm glad I'm healthy and not high anymore. I can wake up every day and don't have to worry about, 'Where am I going to get my hit from?'"

And if audience members at the Frye want to ask more about her experiences after Streetwise? "I'm OK with that. I'm OK with anything. If somebody wants to know anything about my life now, I'm not shy to tell."


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