What Sam Wrote About: Prom fashion

 Photo by E.B. McGovern — now Beth Fitzgerald! — for the Tribune.
Click on any to bring up bigger in a new window.

It’s funny how some of my favorite photo shoots for the Tribune weren’t necessarily ones that resulted in a slew of ZOMG! photos*, but had a great story behind them. Like our first (and only) prom-related shoot: I wanted to use real high-schoolers and the girls were selected solely for their academic activities and merits.

* No offense to the photographers, who did the best they could given the circumstances.

The premise for the photos was that everyday academic life would be going on around these girls who just happened to be dressed for prom, so we came up with seven quintessential school activities, then called one school in each city that the Tribune circulated in. I’d explain the concept, and then say, for example: “We’d like to do a shoot that’s set in chemistry class — you know, beakers, goggles? — and for that, we’d like to use the girl who has the highest GPA in chemistry. Could you put us in touch with her family?”

So Angela up top there really was a track star at Chandler High. We didn’t see her — or any of the girls — until the day of the shoot, so we pulled clothing based off what they told us over the phone about their sizes, preferences and coloring. We set up styling sessions at salons in each town, so they could get glammed up before the shoot, and then we showed up at the appointed time, ready to shoot.

I considered our first shoot a ringer — the captain of the cheerleading squad. The photographer had an idea for a dramatically horizontal shot where the squad would be lined up out on the floor doing a cheer, but for some reason that setup just wasn’t working — the flashes in such a big, empty gym were part of it, and the moves weren’t syncing just right. We were getting more and more frustrated, and eventually we called a break. While E.B. fiddled with the lights, the girls talked about who was asking whom to prom (or hadn’t yet), and the other girls started razzing the captain, Crystal, about a boy. They had naturally gathered around her that way, and E.B. spontaneously grabbed her camera and quietly started photographing without them knowing.

The teenage girl energy was something E.B. and I were totally unprepared for. So much chatter, and laughing, and noise! “How do parents do it?” we wondered.

The track star shoot (at top) in Chandler was relatively easy — for us, anyway. The fellow track team members who agreed to keep coming out of the blocks for us were good sports — ha! — because since E.B. and I were sprawled on the ground in front of them, they’d  have to immediately veer off to the sides to avoid running us over. Poor E.B.: Since I wanted to include the accessories, I was always telling her, “Get the shoes! Get the shoes!” (It became a running joke for the rest of our careers at the Tribune.) We started shooting separate detail shots, just in case they weren’t visible in the main photos.

Our chemistry class shoot featured the girl with the highest grades in chemistry (97%) at Red Mountain High School. She was excited about participating … but she was worried because her family is Mormon, so her shoulders had to be covered. “I understand if you want to use someone else,” she said over the phone. “No way,” I said. Challenge accepted!  She looked so cute, the styling crew even called to tell me how delighted they were with their transformation. I just wish I had thought of bringing a clothing steamer with me! This was in the days when we were still negotiating what could and couldn’t be Photoshopped, and it was decided that would have fallen into the realm of “manipulating the truth,” so no touch-ups. P.S.: The chemistry teacher and I crouched behind the students, blowing those damn bubbles.

The girl who was supposed to be our model for solving math problems at the board at Horizon High School … just didn’t show up for the shoot. All her friends who had agreed to be in the background did, though. Thanks, high school mentality! Luckily, one of her friends was game to literally step into the missing girl’s shoes. Because Lindsey was a smaller size — oh yes, I’m saying it now, that’s what you get for not showing up, Mystery Horizon High School girl! — I had to use binder clips to secure the dress; I’m still pleased with how you can’t tell it’s been cinched from the front.

Another “wha?” moment was when the band member in Gilbert … forgot? didn’t know? decided not? … to get her hair or makeup done, although we had set it up, for free, the day of the shoot. (“Even I would go in and get my hair and makeup done if it were free,” said E.B., herself an avowed jeans-and-sneakers wearer.) Luckily I carried my “style bucket” everywhere — by this point I even had a steamer — and I did her makeup myself, right there. I even painted her toenails, quietly muttering things to myself while I was crouched down in front of her feet.

Somehow we ended up with a junior for Scottsdale’s student council member shoot. Maybe the senior class president was a guy? Anyway, the junior class president volunteered for crossing-guard duty; sadly, we fell victim to the hike-up-the-dress-to-see-the-shoes moment. We kept having to move in and out of traffic as cars went by — we really were in a crosswalk after school one day.

For our shoots, we had to sign out all the merchandise from stores, then return it in immaculate condition so they could put it right back on the racks. But after this shoot, Julie came out panic-stricken, dress in hand, and showed me a spot of what looked like black motor oil: “I have no idea where this came from!” Luckily, the lovely folks at Nordstrom understood and didn’t make us pay for the damaged dress. (That was the only such incident in my tenure, thankfully.)

The final shoot — right after Scottsdale — was in a ceramics class, with a girl in a Neiman Marcus dress, so I was hypervigilant about possible spatter. By this time I was ready to be done with the shoots … and then I had to finally start the writing.

This was one of those great-concept, glad-it’s-over ideas that we never repeated. (This was published in 2001, so these “girls” are now all in their late 20s!) Shortly after that we segued into using professional models and doing smaller shoots, which made things much easier.

The shirt: Cotton button-down, from the J. Crew outlet store at Anthem.
The pants: Boot-cut jeans by 7 for all Mankind, from Nordstrom in Chandler.
The shoes: Suede chukka boots by RJ Colt, from Last Chance.

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