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At the same time that Barack Obama was running for President in the United States, Charleston High School in Mississippi was hosting its first mixed-race prom, and it was only happening thanks to financial backing from actor Morgan Freeman.
"You know, Obama's been elected and we keep saying it's so great that racism's gone, but we actually haven't made the progress that we think we have," says Catherine Farquharson (no relation to the reporter), a Toronto photographer.
Her behind-the-scenes look at this event, which took place last April, forms an integral part of Canadian Paul Saltzman's documentary Prom Night in Mississippi, which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Meanwhile, an exhibition of Farquharson's photos has just opened at Toronto's Lens Factory gallery and will run throughout February, coinciding with Black History Month.
Whether it's a quiet shot of a chubby girl pushing down the hem of her dress on a front porch, or the more energetic image of a group of teenagers whipping out their best moves on the dance floor, Farquharson captures the range of emotions involved in getting ready for a night that, for many of these kids, was the biggest of their lives.
"A high-school prom in the States is huge," she says. "And with a photo like that one of that girl on the steps, I just think it really shows her youth, despite how dressed up she is. But there's something else happening there, too -- it feels fragile, almost."
Although she sometimes does cover shots for Toronto alternative magazines as well as some editorial work, Farquharson mostly specializes in wedding photography.
She says that while nuptials may seem like a completely different subject matter, her experience actually came in handy for the prom in Charleston.
"It's a similar situation, in that mothers are crying because their girls are all grown up, the kids are nervous and excited," she says. "I felt the romance of the scene in much the same way as I do at weddings."
One of the things she noticed was how the kids themselves seemed far more willing to integrate than older generations. Some parents insisted that while they were fine with a mixed-race prom, they still wanted the option of an all-white prom, too.
"These students hang out together at school; they're on the same school teams," Farquharson says. "They go to the same nail salon before the prom ... The reason Morgan [Freeman] wanted to fund this and make it happen was because he believed most of the racial tension was in the adult generation, and I think he's right.
"The kids," she adds, "either want the situation to change, or they want to leave town." - Prom Night in Mississippi by Catherine Farquharson runs until Feb. 28 at The Lens Factory, 1040 Queen St. W., Toronto. See documentographer.comfor more information. firstname.lastname@example.org