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Arts & Culture

Exploring Prom Night In America

Mary Ellen Mark

It's just a dance, right?

Actually, maybe that's the last thing the prom is. Maybe the photo is even more important, because it freezes you. It's your chance, as high school trickles away, to say "This is who I am. This will be who I was."

We've been looking at prom photos by Mary Ellen Mark, who will be on our show today, and they're striking in the range of emotional states they convey. We see joy, hesitation, confidence, detachment and some flat-out haunted looks.

Perhaps the central fiction of prom is that it happens in a vacuum. The rest of he world sloughs away for a moment of untainted glamor. But it doesn't. All of your life is still right there with you, riding on your back, lifting you up or dragging you down.

Of course, the other thing you're trying to do is make a memory. Do you still have yours? Your prom memory, that is?

Leave your comments below, e-mail colin@wnpr.org or Tweet us @wnprcolin.


  • Sloane Crosley - writer and the author, most recently of “Look Alive Out There”. She joins us from NPR’s studio in New York City
  • Mary Ellen Mark - photographer. From 2006 to 2009 she traveled around the country documenting proms with her husband, Martin Bell. The experience is documented in a movie and book called, "Prom"
  • Stuart Eisenberg - lawyer in Philadelphia. He was Mary Ellen Mark’s prom date in 1958

Chion Wolf & Betsy Kaplan contributed to this show, which originally aired on May 10, 2012.

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