BEHIND GILLIAN LAUB’S SOUTHERN RITES DOCUMENTARY
When New York City-based photographer Gillian Laub first transitioned from still to motion, it was “out of necessity” for a story about segregated proms she had been covering in Montgomery County, Georgia.
“I felt frustrated because the still photographs weren’t allowing me to tell the full and nuanced story,” Laub tells American Photo. She began the project first in 2002 while on assignment for SPIN magazine. Then in 2009, The New York Times Magazine ran the story “A Prom Divided,” which included her photographs and audio interviews of the segregated prom, igniting controversy about the school’s policy.
Within a year, the school had merged the two proms, and Laub returned to Montgomery County to document the first desegregated prom, this time ready to capture video. The “solitary and intimate practice” of still photography, she says, is often “powerful enough on its own,” but for this story, telling it accurately meant recording the students’ voices and capturing motion footage. “Teenagers in prom dresses can be very visual, but it was challenging to be able to communicate the context in the still images alone,” she explains.