Exploring Prom Night In America

Photographer Mary Ellen Mark captures this teenage moment.

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Jameelia Ricks & Marielle Evangelista
Jameelia Ricks & Marielle Evangelista as photographed by Mary Ellen Mark during their prom in Ithaca, New York, 2008. Photo:Mary Ellen Mark
Ashley Conrad
Ashley Conrad, New York City, 2009 Photo:Mary Ellen Mark
Miranda Banks and Candice Martin
Miranda Banks and Candice Martin as photographed by Mary Ellen Mark during their prom in Charlottesville, Virginia, 2008. Photo:Mary Ellen Mark
Toccarra Baguma and George Wilkinson
Toccarra Baguma and George Wilkinson as photographed by Mary Ellen Mark during their prom in New York City, 2007. Photo:Mary Ellen Mark
Christina Cheng
Christina Cheng as photographed by Mary Ellen Mark during her prom in Austin, Tex., 2008. Photo:Mary Ellen Mark
Lucas Nathan and Grace Bush-Vineberg
Lucas Nathan and Grace Bush-Vineberg as photographed by Mary Ellen Mark during their prom in Pacific Palisades, Calif., 2008 Photo:Mary Ellen Mark
Adam Johnson and Carley Gunter
Adam Johnson and Carley Gunter as by Mary Ellen Mark at their prom in Austin, Tex., 2008. Photo:Mary Ellen Mark
Natalie Williams and James Gallager
Natalie Williams and James Gallager as photographed by Mary Ellen Mark during their prom in Los Angeles, Cal., 2008 Photo:Mary Ellen Mark
Exploring Prom Night In America
Download Audio
Web Extra: Barbara Greenberg On 'Promposals'
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Audio Playlist
Exploring Prom Night In America
Web Extra: Barbara Greenberg On 'Promposals'

It's just a dance, right?

Actually, maybe that's the last thing the prom is. Maybe the photo is even more important, because it freezes you. It's your chance, as high school trickles away, to say "This is who I am. This will be who I was."

We've been looking at prom photos by Mary Ellen Mark, who will be on our show today, and they're striking in the range of emotional states they convey. We see joy, hesitation, confidence, detachment and some flat-out haunted looks.

Perhaps the central fiction of prom is that it happens in a vacuum. The rest of he world sloughs away for a moment of untainted glamour. But it doesn't. All of your life is still right there with you, riding on your back, lifting you up or dragging you down.

Of course, the other thing you're trying to do is make a memory. Do you still have yours? Your prom memory, that is?

Leave your comments below, e-mail colin@wnpr.org or Tweet us @wnprcolin.


  

Comments

E-mail from Simone

Enjoyed your show (as usual)....didn't feel like calling, but I thought I'd tell you that I bet I have been to more proms than most people in your audience -- over 60 -- I made it a tradition to attend junior and senior proms for my students...and I photographed many of the kids over the years. They always got a kick out of receiving the photos a few days later. I enjoyed seeing how well my students "cleaned up" for Prom Night....

I graduated from high school in 1969 (at sixteen and a half) and was already protesting the war in Vietnam, etc. So I did not think it was appropriate to go to prom while war was raging....many of my classmates demonstrated in front of the Plaza Hotel that night instead of attending the prom there.....

In later years, after I became a teacher and regular prom-goer, I used to joke that I was making up for having skipped my own prom.

In West Hartford, some kids spend a fortune, as you know, hiring limos, buying gorgeous gowns, etc. Others wear modest dresses, and one girl (Talasi Brooks, now in law school) came in a dress made out of duct tape, something I will always recall.

E-mail from Jennifer

Ha ha. Speaking of prom:
Reese Witherspoon grew up in Nashville, as did my best friend.
My best friend's boyfriend at the time dumper her for one night so that he could take Reese to his prom (they all went to different schools).
She found out and was furious. She refuses to see her movies to this day

E-mail from Woody

I graduated from a small high school in rural Alabama in 1971. That was the last year of the "gradual integration" process and now us white folks are in the minority. (it's close 54%--46%). The former Black High School closed that year(most of the Black students at the "White" High School had gone to the Black High School Prom up until that time.) This year, we would all 'prom' together.

But the concern that a black boy might dance with a white girl caused the teachers to refuse to cooperate, the prom was cancelled, there was no alternate prom. My girl friend was really angry, personally I was relieved; it never bothered me. I think the females were far more concerned than the guys...