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Mary Ellen Mark Goes to Prom

Produced by Karen Smyles

(Select "Chapter 1" to watch this segment)

September 2012

From Hollywood insiders to Florida retirees, much of Mary Ellen Mark's work explores the many facets of American culture. In her latest collection of photographs, Mark captures a quintessential adolescent experience, the American prom. Depicting youth at the outset of the 21st century, Prom presents 60 black and white photographs of teens in festive dress at their most anticipated event of the year. Taken at 13 high school formals across the country between 2006 and 2009, Mark's pictures represent not only geographic and demographic diversity, but a broad spectrum of relationships, body types, and aspirations. The exhibition also includes a 33-minute video entitled "Prom," made by Mark's husband, filmmaker Martin Bell, which captures interviews with many of the photographed subjects, bringing their voices and thoughts into contact with their pictures. The exhibit will be at The Philadelphia Museum of Art thru October 28th, 2012.

Friday Arts spoke with Mary Ellen Mark in July 2012 when she was here to promote Prom at the opening of the exhibit. This exhibit is especially significant to Mark because she lived and grew up in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. Mark shares with us how her own prom picture from Cheltenham High helped inspire her work on this book. We also learn how her experience working with many great filmmakers impacted her career as a photographer.

All of the photographs in Prom were taken with a 20-by-24-inch Polaroid Land Camera, which weighs about 200 pounds and stands six feet tall. Operating it requires very specific skills, and only five of these cameras exist. The large-format prints have no actual negative. Take a closer look at some of the beautiful images below. — Edited by Larry Goodwin