Tag Archives: School Classmates

Last Dance: American Proms by Gillian Laub

For kids and communities across America, prom night is both an enduring rite of passage and a sign of the times. This April, TIME commissioned photographer Gillian Laub to document this ritual in a journey that would take her across the country to Georgia, Missouri, Arizona, Oregon, New York and Massachusetts. In the resulting photo essay, “Last Dance,” Laub captured the bittersweet anticipation and excitement surrounding the annual tradition through a series of striking portraits of teenage prom attendees.

“Last Dance” is, in many ways, the culmination of a 10-year project for the New York City based photographer. One of the schools that appears in the essay, Montgomery County High School in Mount Vernon, Ga., first appeared on Laub’s radar when she traveled there in 2002 to photograph its homecoming festivities, then segregated by race, on an assignment with SPIN magazine. Seven years later, she returned to photograph Montgomery County High School’s prom, still segregated by race, for a project that was published by the New York Times magazine.

That would be the last time Montgomery County High School held a segregated prom, and Laub returned again this April to photograph students getting ready for just the third integrated event in the school’s history. “Naturally the first prom I photographed for the TIME essay was Montgomery County High School,” Laub says. “I wanted to follow the only biracial couple attending the prom. Only three years earlier they wouldn’t have been allowed to be each other’s dates.”

The word “prom” first appeared in 1894 in the journal of an Amherst College student going to a prom at Smith College nearby. In the century since, prom has become a distinctly high school tradition, a last chance for classmates to party together, before post-graduation plans send them in different directions. Today, as Laub’s pictures show, getting ready for prom plays as big a role as the dance itself; it plays out to big business, too. A 2012 survey predicted families would spend an average of $1,078 on prom, including costs for outfits, hair, makeup and manicures. The Dwight-Englewood girls wearing haute designers like Alice Temperley and Roberto Cavalli almost certainly spent much more, while many students from Joplin High School in Joplin, Mo.—the site of a devastating tornado a little over a year ago—arrived at prom in donated attire.

Proms represent other rites of passage too. On May 19 in Massachusetts, the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth hosted its 32nd annual prom—the nation’s oldest for GLBT youth—10 days after Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to endorse gay marriage.

“I love the ritual, the time, effort and thought about every detail of preparation to put their best foot forward,” says Laub about documenting proms. “It’s a moment in their lives of transition and hope.” For the students, yes, and perhaps for their schools and communities, too.

See more about proms in this week’s issue of TIME and on TIME.com.

Gillian Laub is a photographer based in New York and a frequent contributor to TIME. See more of her work here

Marisha Camp

I am in love.  Deeply in love. and you’d better get a cup of coffee because I am sharing a bumper crop of photographs today.  Marisha Camp is an amazing portrait photographer, creating full blown operas with her camera. Each photograph has power, has beauty, has pathos and her body of work is so rich that it is hard to know where to begin.
You see this and think it can’t get much better….
and then you see this…

and this….

and then you exhale a little and are flattened by this…
I’ll let Marisha tell you her story:
I grew up in a small town in Connecticut.  I was too sensitive.  I felt everything deeply.  I lived in my head.  One of my grade
school classmates was nicknamed “The Cow.”  When she entered a room, the
room burst into moo’s.  Every day for five years, maybe longer, this poor
girl was profoundly set apart, taunted, tormented… And she stoically endured
it all and simply said “kids can be cruel sometimes” when I asked her how she
survived inside.  I tried my best to
fight for her then, and in some strange
way I have been fighting for her ever since.

In high school, we read Nickled and Dimed, we embraced
multiculturalism, it was all so well meaning, but I’ll never forget the school
assembly where we were told not to wear baseball caps because baseball caps were
for uneducated men named Billy Bob.  As
soon as we could drive, my brother and I hit the road.  We went looking
for Billy Bob.  Billy Bob driving down the turnpike as fast as his
battered car would take him, feeling for a brief moment as though he could fly,
the weight of constant struggle and crushed dreams and hard living miles
below…  Hi ho silvero, deliver me from nowhere…  Years later I still
hadn’t picked up a camera.  I was sitting in an interview for the sort of
dirty, thankless, hopelessly underpaid job that, when you’re lucky, leaves you
with just enough left over at the end of the month for a few hours of reckless
driving with the radio cranked all the way.  The manager asked me what I
wanted to do with my life.  I don’t know where the answer came from, but I told him I wanted to be the Bruce Springsteen of photography. 

           
I went back to school.  I started to take photographs, photos of people,
photos steeped in the mythology of Billy Bob and “The Cow,” photos of
strangers, photos of so many people who would become close friends…  I am
always drawn to the moments where people are able to escape their realities,
where there is space to transform oneself, a space to dream…  Of all the
things I am grateful for, I am most grateful for the many chances I’ve had to
step into other people’s worlds.  I shoot democratically- I light everyone. 
I try to find the light that shines in everyone I meet.  Most of the time
I succeed.  I still live in my head.  I don’t imagine I’m making
objective documents.  I know that every portrait is, to a degree, a
self-portrait.  I don’t fight it.  I need to believe that deep down,
we are all the same.  

The Beach
I began shooting the portraits that would become “The Beach” during a
long and sweltering August when I was down and out in New York City.  Coney Island saved my spirit. I wandered up
and down the beach every weekend sheepishly asking strangers if I could take
their picture, and I soon found myself fully immersed in the lives of new
friends, immersed in their sorrows and joys instead of my own. 

On Coney Island, I experienced a sort of generosity that defied every prevailing notion of big city life, of merciless competition and soul crushing anonymity.  I was invited onto towels and blankets and offered endless amounts of food and beer. And stories. Wonderfully sad, touching, harrowing, funny, happy, beautiful stories… Four years have passed since then. I still wander up and down the beach each summer. 

 Every year I’m terrified it will all be over soon, that Coney Island’s fading amusement parks will give way to hotels and Disneyfication. Everything I love about Coney Island is threatened by development and ignored in debates about blight and eminent domain. But this is no graveyard for lost dreams- the beach is vibrant and alive. A colorful wonderland on a hazy summer afternoon, Coney Island is as much an escapist’s dream world as it is gritty and urban and real. And now I shoot and shoot and shoot so some little part of its magic can never fade away.

Images from Pagents