CHS promgoers pose in People
As a high school student, prom may be the ultimate school-related clichÃ©, one that New York photographer Mary Ellen Mark explores in her latest exhibition, "Prom." Traveling around the country over the past three years, Mark attended several proms–- including Charlottesville High School's 2008 prom–- capturing the magic the night entails. For four CHS prom-going couples, inclusion in Mark's project meant more than a night of memories–- the couple's portraits were recently showcased in both the McGuffey Art Center and People's June 16 issue (shown at left).
"Prom is just a great American ritual, so incredibly visual," Mark says. "I wanted to show the rite of passage. It's very much an important American custom."
Mark, who claims to still own her prom pictures, captured the magic of prom throughout the country, stopping in places such as Houston, Texas, Pacific Palisades, California, and Brooklyn, New York, before coming to Charlottesville. After accepting an invitation to participate in the Look3 Festival of the Photograph from the festival's directors Jessica Nagle and Nick Nichols, Mark found the opportunity to work with CHS students during their prom.
"It was the perfect prom, really diverse," Mark says. "It was a real racial and economic cross-section, and it was interesting that it was in the high school itself, not just in a club."
Among the 21 photographs included in Mark's McGuffey exhibit, eight capture CHS students, including the prom king and queen, twin siblings Will and Jane Mattimoe.
"We weren't allowed to smile; she wanted us to be all rigid and stiff," recent CHS graduate and prom king Will Mattimoe says. "It was neat to watch her work, but there was a dance going on that we were missing."
Sister Jane agrees. "She told us not to smile and had us stand slightly apart," she says. "My expression in the picture kind of says, 'So when are you guys going to dump the bucket of blood on my head?'"
Carrie references aside, running for prom king alongside his sister, Mattimoe had failed to win any of the six officer positions he ran for, until prom night. "It was a dream come true," he says. "Prom King was the last thing available, and Jane and I got to dance in front of the whole school."
Mattimoe, who will be attending VCU's Cinema program next year while Jane studies history at UVA, received more than his crown or the complimentary key chain students received after the dance: his photo in People is a long-lasting source of pride for the teen. "Our picture isn't in the McGuffey for some reason, but I'd prefer to be in People anyway," he says.
"It's pretty cool to go to the grocery story and be able to find your picture," Mattimoe says. "People are like, 'Cool, you're in People. That's really neat, huh?' and I say, 'Yeah, that's really neat.'"
CHS junior Candice Martin offers a different perspective of the sacred high school ritual in Mark's exhibit. Martin, who went to the prom with her girlfriend Miranda Banks, says of her high school, "Overall, everyone at CHS is really accepting. I've been to three proms, and each time I went with a girl."
In an exhibit that showcased the diversity of high schools throughout the country, Martin emphasized the similarities between the prom-going generation despite geographic differences.
"There are such similarities in these kids," Mark says. "I thought I'd see a big difference–- but you can't pinpoint any difference in these photographs."
In speaking for her generation, Martin articulates a confidence and hope found in Mark's work, one that adults may be surprised to find at a high school prom. "I personally thought it was amazing how there was a lesbian couple in the magazine and exhibit," she says, "showing the community that our generation is accepting and that kids aren't afraid to be who they are."
–-with additional reporting by Marissa D'Orazio