Tag Archives: Striking Portraits

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

Oscars 2012: Great Performances

Each January, Los Angeles is effervescent with anticipation, as the world’s biggest stars gather to participate in a flurry of parties, dinners and events in the walk-up to the Golden Globes, marking the beginning of the awards season. This year was no exception.

TIME’s annual Oscars portfolio showcases each year’s best performers through a portfolio of striking portraits. Tears, giggles, pranks and emotions ran high, and loads of laughter pealed through the studio during this year’s shoot, which resulted in a series of images and short films photographed and directed by Sebastian Kim. It was our most ambitious Oscars shoot yet. We had just three days to photograph and film 12 world-class actors during their busiest time of the year.

George Clooney arrived early on set, but it didn’t take long for the actor to settle in and begin joking around and planning pranks with Michael Fassbender, who had recently been photographed by Kim for the February issue of Interview magazine. This previous experience of working together made for a great rapport between them. And it wasn’t the only happy reunion on set: Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer happily embraced upon seeing each other on our set, giving us a glimpse of the fun these two had while working together on The Help. Later, Adepero Oduye was brought to tears when introduced by Joel Stein, who was on hand to interview the actors, to Davis, one of her greatest heroes. “It was so unbelievably Hollywood and yet really real,” Stein says.

Kim says that the project was the most star-studded he’s photographed so far. “I was quite excited photographing Meryl Streep,” he says, noting that his girlfriend is a big fan of the actress’s, “so naturally I was quite nervous when I met her. Being nervous on set is not a good thing as it impedes your concentration, but I just kept thinking, ‘My gosh…I better a get a good shot of her and make my girlfriend happy!’”

But Kim needn’t have been nervous. Streep was running a bit late, having arrived from a previous shoot with MGM studios, where she was taking part in a project to photograph the greatest living actors of our time. She was immediately forgiven—and how could she not be? Streep is kind and gracious, possesses a rare elegance and professionalism that made the photo shoot feel like anything but work. In fact, this set the tone for all of our actors’portraits, which also included sittings with Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Christopher Plummer, Michelle Williams, Rooney Mara, Jean Dujardin, as well as the adorable Uggie, the dog in The Artist.

It’s a rare pleasure to watch actors of this caliber play for the camera. Instead of characters, they play themselves, with a focus and passion that can only come from years of experience on set.

The performers’interviews with Joel Stein can be viewed here.