Monday, 5 October 2015

Black and white in color

As the book is about segregation in the South the title is very apt and in the small town of Mount Vernon, Georgia things hardly seemed to have moved on from life as depicted in the 1967 film In the heat of the night. Gillian Laub got involved in the town because Spin Magazine, in 2002, gave her an assignment to cover the racially segregated school proms. Though the school was integrated in 1971 the prom wasn't, one was tried in 1995 but only one white couple arrived among all the black faces. The Student Council had a referendum in 1996 and the integrated prom idea was completely defeated by blacks and whites. It took until 2010 to finally get this important event in the student life integrated, proms in previous years were private affairs organised and paid for by the students.

As well as Spin the New York Times Magazine picked up the story for a May 21, 2009 edition and Laub again took the photos. There are fifty-eight by her in the book, mostly of the students getting ready, arriving and enjoying their respective proms. Several photos of individuals have their thoughts about the event and segregation as a text block next to their pictures.

Though an interesting subject I though the book was rather spun out to fill the pages. Divided into several chapters with each starting on a spread with a left-hand black page and few lines of text on the right (so filling twenty pages). As well as the photos by Laub there are nineteen other photos and graphics: a spread from the school yearbook; a three page student essay from 1999; various studio portraits of students; a spread from the NY Times Magazine (but no mention of Spin photos) four black pages with white type of a conversation between police 911 operator and a local Mount Vernon man who killed a student one night; a spread of video clips showing a sheriff taking Laub's camera while she was in a car during 2011. Missing were shots of the school and street scenes of the town.

If Laub's photos and the other visual material had been better organized with a tighter graphic presentation it could have pulled everything together for a worthwhile look at these disappearing Southern rites.

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