“Wether Playin’ Ball or Coolin in The Hall or Just Writing My Name in Graffiti On The Wall”
Prom students are no longer prom students once they have been photographed by Bayeté. Post photograph the kids are immediate personifications of their own desires as they emerge into adulthood as survivors, or warriors, in a rite of passage that is mundane from the perspective of adulthood, but nonetheless a grand celebration in the mind of many kids departing school. In part two of our conversation Bayeté Ross Smith discusses his interest in documenting American High School students in transition.
Here Come The Girls
“With the prom images, I am interested in the prom as a rite of passage and how the prom portrait fits into the historical tradition of portraiture, commemorating important people and events. I am examining the expression of identity, at a moment that can be seen as the start of adulthood. Visually I am drawn to students who are expressive, in terms of their outfits and poses. With some of them it is a certain vibe they give off when you are in their presence. Though what I am drawn to visually fluctuates between the very unique to the very common. I am primarily drawn to the creative, self expressive outfits, but also to those outfits with a specific cultural reference. For example, for several years Zoot Suites and hats were really popular in northern california. When I photographed students in this attire, I was drawn to the re-appropriation of 30’s and 40’s iconography with a contemporary Hip Hop twist placed on it. There was another photo from last year’s proms of a girl who appeared to be first generation, Indian or Pakistani. All her friends had on these short, tight little dresses, while her dress was more modest, with Black tights on to cover her legs and a shawl to cover her bare shoulders. She actually returned to the dinning area before the picture to retrieve the shall before being photographed. So how different communities incorporate themselves into this ritual, and express their cultural identities fascinates me as well.
One time I had a this east asian couple tell me they were going to imitate Japanese tourists in their photo. So with this series it becomes a combination of poses and outfits, and also how the kids interact with each other, whether they are in couples or larger groups. I am always drawn to the outfits that match each other or go together in some way and any special symbols or adornments the students have that are unique. All of these things point to who they feel they are, at this point in their lives and how they want to commemorate that in this moment. On a side note, I have become fascinated with the fact that these students are portraying adult archetypes with their prom outfits and poses. So on some level this is what they think adults are and what adults do and they are attempting to live that out to the best of their ability.”