First Dance, First Tux, First Love – The Prom Photo

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Mary Ellen Mark, Prom project

As Prom season begins, National Public Radio reports on the photo project by Mary Ellen Mark, a book of portraits capturing that twilight moment between teenager and adulthood that is Prom night

The ritual of Prom night begins with the awareness of this public commitment, the giving of the corsage, then the moment when it’s captured for eternity – or at least until the children discover it buried in a photo-album in the sock-drawer.NPR report on photographer Mary Ellen Mark, now 72, whose latest book Prom features 127 portraits from 13 schools across America, shot between 2006 and 2009.

Shot on a 400-pound Polaroid 20×24 Land Camera Mary Ellen Mark captures these young and transient relationships that have been given formal airs and graces through the clothes and the formality of the Prom portrait. Rob Haggart on A Photo Editor highlights the fact that this is the kind of work that marks out the professional from the Instagram aficionados,“if anything separates professional photographers from the pack it’s a book like Prom. “

The mini-documentary accompanying the feature is strangely moving and sweet with a cast of characters who are confident, optimistic and pragamatic. As one girl, with no hair, poignantly says to camera, she’s looking forward to a night with “no IV poles, no kids walking through with chemo, if I keep my head bald, I’ll be the only one bald there.”

Buy the Prom book.

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