Art & Archives, Photographs, Film, and Video, Publications

Photographer Mary Ellen Mark and Filmmaker Martin Bell Go to Prom

What will I wear? Who will be my date? Should we rent a limo?  With prom season approaching, these are questions going through American teenagers’ minds.

This all-American experience of going to prom marks the end of high school and the beginning of adulthood. Between 2006 and 2009, documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark traveled to 13 high schools to produce Prom, just released by Getty Publications, a fascinating look at dozens of teens from a diverse range of backgrounds on this memorable night.

Mark intentionally chose schools representing varied socioeconomic situations—including an exclusive private academy in Pacific Palisades, an urban public school in Newark, an upper-middle-class suburban school in Austin, and the pediatric ward at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center—to explore the similarities and differences in prom traditions. For example, white middle-class young women in Pittsburgh bought their similar looking dresses at the same local department store, while African American women had custom dresses made, each one a unique creation.

Spread from Prom by Mary Ellen Mark, published by Getty Publications

Two plates from Prom, newly published by Getty Publications. At left, Donald R. Lewis Jr. and Lakia M. Wilcher, Newark, New Jersey, 2006. At right, Samantha Toet and Alyssa Smith, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2008. Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark

Using a six-foot-tall, 250-pound Polaroid Land 20 x 24 camera, which required special technicians to operate, Mark set up a photography studio at each prom she attended. Her interns scoured the dance floor for interesting subjects.  After being photographed, the students went to another studio where they were interviewed for a documentary by Mark’s husband, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Martin Bell.  On the film, the students talk about their dates, their high school experiences, and speculate on their futures. You can see a sneak peek of the film at the top of the post.

Quotations from the filmed interviews punctuate the book, which also includes a DVD of the documentary. Some of the students’ statements are comical, while others are deeply touching. The result is a captivating and revealing document of American youth at the beginning of the 21st century.

Tagged Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • Tumblr

    • photo from Tumblr



      Winter is coming. All men must die. And Game of Thrones is back! Stay tuned each week as we unpack Sunday’s episodes through masterpieces.

      Winter is coming indeed! A snowy forecast has just been resurrected thanks to a please-touch-me-and-cut-my-hair lady in red. The epic line “I drink and I know things” provides especially good wisdom for how to tame two dragons

      Several characters went at it this week: a soldier and a friar exchanged heated remarks in the presence of an armed peace mob, a girl with no name and another not-so-kind girl went stick to stick, a crow and a giant went crossbow to stone wall, a first-born son stabbed his father, starving hounds and a new mother went canines to flesh, and two brothers duked it out on a swinging bridge (one fell). Plus, the three-eyed raven (who sits in a tree) taught a forgotten character how to look into the past.

      To make our Game of Thrones posts more international, we’ll feature an image from our Global Middle Ages exhibition and pick “wildcard” images from other collections around the world.

      This week’s pick from the Getty’s Traversing the Globe exhibition comes from @lacma (because we love dragons). The wildcard images were selected from the British Museum (more dragons), the Morgan Library (giants!), and the Museo del Prado (hounds).

      Dive deeper with featurettes connecting the making of medieval manuscripts to the making of fantasy TV. 


      #DesigningGoT - Live Stream May 4 at 7 PM PST

      Michele Clapton, costume designer for the first five seasons of Game of Thrones, joins Deborah Landis, director of the Copley Center for Costume Design at UCLA, and Bryan C. Keene, assistant curator of manuscripts at the Getty, to discuss the series’ medieval aesthetic and the visual sources for her designs.

      Tune in to the live stream here.


  • Flickr