TIME LightBox talks to Mary Ellen Mark as part of our series “The Photo That Made Me”, in which photographers tell us about the one photograph they made that they believe jump-started their career, garnered them international attention, or simply reflected their early interest in photography.
In 1965, I was in Trabzon in eastern Turkey on a Fulbright scholarship. I would get up every morning and walk around the streets and look for photographs. One day, I came across this beautiful young girl, Emine. She was wearing a very babyish dress and a bow in her hair. I photographed her, and she invited me to come to her home.
At her home, her mother gave me some tea and we went to the back area of her house where I took this picture. She just posed for me like that, I didn’t tell her what to do.
I don’t like to photograph children as children. I like to see them as adults, as who they really are. I’m always looking for the side of who they might become. Emine was being very seductive in her own nine-year-old way. It’s interesting to me that she would show me that side of herself.
When I came back from Turkey and developed the film, I saw this picture and knew it was something special. I had been photographing for a couple of years before this, and I felt that sometimes you are looking and looking, and you are not sure what you are looking for. Often you look for the cliché and what you think makes a picture. This was the first time I felt I went beyond that. I thought this photograph transcended the image and had an edge.
A few years ago, I went back to Istanbul for the first time since my Fulbright. I was thinking I would love to find Emine. A local newspaper in Istanbul published the picture, and we found her through her daughter. It turns out that Emine ran off a few years after I took this photograph – at age 16 – with her boyfriend and got married. She now lives in a town not far from Istanbul with her husband, the same person.
I’m currently working on a book for Aperture on Tiny, a girl from my previous book, and my husband Martin Bell’s film Streetwise. Tiny is a young prostitute from Seattle whom I’ve photographed and Martin has filmed for more than 30 years. At the same time, Martin is making a film about her and her ten children. Going back is something that’s always fascinating to me. I would have liked to photograph Emine again.
Mary Ellen Mark is a photographer based in New York. She is best known for her in-depth documentary projects done around the world and has been published and exhibited widely. LightBox has previously featured Mark’s work Man and Beast on the relationships between human and animals.