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Weekend: STARTERS: Big picture The Woodland Hills High School Prom, by Mark Neville

August 9, 2014

Abigail Radnor



British photographer Mark Neville watched as the students of Woodland Hills high school in Pittsburgh finished dinner at their prom. There was a strong African-American demographic of students but as soon as the DJ played a hip-hop track, it was the white teenagers, in their bejewelled gowns and bow ties, who headed to the dancefloor. "They started bumping and grinding, a style obviously rooted in African-American culture. Whereas the white kids thought that was cool, the African-American kids remained seated, politely finishing their dinner. They did not want to conform to that stereotype."

Neville spent four months in Pittsburgh in 2012, commissioned by the Andy Warhol Museum, living in both the affluent town of Sewickley and in Braddock, whose mainly African-American residents were dealing with the fallout from the collapse of the steel works and a crack epidemic. He was fascinated by the contrasts between the two communities. He had just finished a six-week assignment in London. "In Pittsburgh it seemed that the inequality was more along racial lines than in London where it was more to do with wealth and class," Neville says. "It is a terrible generalisation, but that's how I experienced it."

It took a few days for Neville to befriend a group of men centred on a stoop on one of the roughest streets in Braddock. He walked by them every day at 9.30am as they drank beer and smoked crack until they eventually invited him in for a drink and asked him to take their photograph. He also established relationships with various high schools and nightclubs. As for his subjects on the dancefloors: "After a while, nine times out of 10, they don't even notice I am there, despite the fact that I am using some very powerful flash photography. They are too busy enjoying themselves."

Mark Neville's exhibition London/Pittsburgh is at the Alan Cristea Gallery, London W1, from 20 November. His work is also on display at the Imperial War Museum, London SE1, until 25 September.


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Source: Guardian (UK)


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