[Video + Pics] Mary Ellen Mark Shoots Prom Photos

How bad are your prom photos? Mine don't exist, since I never took part in the awkward American ritual (I had plenty of awkwardness in my day-to-day life). But I have always been intrigued by the whole idea of it. What does someone's prom photo have to say about who they were at sixteen? In this video, photographer Mary Ellen Mark captures the lives of prom-goers. She shot each of the portraits with a 400-pound Polaroid 20x24 Land Camera. The 127 portraits were taken at 13 different schools. You can see some of the final images below. She took them between 2006 and 2009, but I would have guessed that they were older. What do you think?

Via: NPR


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Lee Christiansen's picture

When I first looked at the photographs, my reaction was "poorly executed" and "what's wrong with the background..."  

But then I saw the video and I fell in love with the photographs.  It's funny how context can make us feel differently about an image.  If the stills had been perfectly posed or with the background paper filling the image, they wouldn't have had the same "feel."

I'm going to have to re-evaluate how I evaluate images methinks...

Great video!


Alessandro Burato's picture

Yes, context and all. Whatever. They're STILL poorly executed. I can't stand the trend of glorifying mediocre shots because they're "vintage" or "intentionally shabby" or... you get the point. It's not about a complex setup or lighting, it's not about a compelling story. It's about being a photographer and caring for the picture you create. Avedon's "American West" portraits are simple portraits of common people, some of them downright ugly. Yet, each one of them is a masterpiece.

These photos suck, from any possible point of view.

i wouldn't say poorly executed by any means, i actually really like the shots - very much reminds me of "Worlds in a Small Room" by Irving Penn..... To each his own though.

Mark Kauzlarich's picture

I just didn't like them. Also, talking about context, you completely strip the context out by not putting the capitons for the photos up. Its kind of like destroying the work in part. But as for the images themselves, as a photojournalist I often look for something that stands out to catch people's attention, but it just felt a bit... mean-spirited to pick certain couples because they were obviously... non-normative (in a mean sense). Kind of like a side-show-esque way of looking at the project.

josephp's picture

Poorly executed is in the mind of the beholder.  They are someone's vision, which you certainly don't have to agree with.  I have seen Ansel Adams photographs that I hated or didn't agree with and I still think that whoever gave Billie Holliday a recording contract was drunk.   I guess the response would be "Who am I?"  I don't know, Alessandro...but I would ask you the same question.  I wasn't all impressed with it at first but I found myself smiling as I scrolled through them and then watched the video.  Made me happy.  So from my point of view, which is in the realm of possibility, they don't suck.  They're charming.

Enrique Romero's picture

They would not stand out at all nor would we be commenting on them had they´d been shot differently...

Lee Christiansen's picture

What these images show, and what so many portraits hide so well - is the true character of the people in them.

Sure they could have been far better posed - but I like the way some of them stand awkwardly, or think they are posing well.

The rough background actually serves to enhance that honesty.  The images are not pretending to be  anything more than real people placed for us to see for what they are or are hoping to be at that moment.  The photographer plays no part in their image - only to record what they are.

Refreshing at times, even though love beautiful images too...

A favourite portrait that I've taken, is a shot of a man sitting with no particular pose.  Just him on his couch and looking at the lens.  Its a very honest shot of his character, and although I feel I've executed it well, its the simplicity of the image that makes it my favourite.  That's why I like some of these shots.

Each to his own - I guess that is the art in in all.

People love to bash and negatively critique other photographer's work, seems that those who do so are better critics than photographers... 

I like the emotion these images give me, the color tone enhanced it mood. 
People have the right to their opinion regardless if you think its good or not but it does get you to feel some emotion, it which I think the photographer was trying to do.

I cannot begin to describe the emotional impact the closing comment of the young man featured at 1:41 had on me. I hope his mother received and was able to take some joy in the products of this project. 

Great vid. I like the photos but find the floor/background/set extremely distracting.