Photographer Landon Nordeman heads to the city’s annual Northwestern High School prom, documenting local teens as they enjoy a classic American rite of passage.

Photographer Landon Nordeman heads to the city’s annual Northwestern High School prom, documenting local teens as they enjoy a classic American rite of passage.

Flint, Michigan, first made headlines in 2014 when state officials changed water sources and failed to apply corrosion inhibitors, creating a public health crisis that continues to this very day. With 10 people dead, and some 12,000 children exposed to lead-infested drinking water, the predominantly African-American city has been forced to drink, cook, clean, and bathe with bottled or filtered water for the past four years.

Despite these horrific circumstances, the people of Flint endure – and even thrive. In 2017, Zack Canepari invited New York-based photographer Landon Nordeman to spend 24 hours in Flint, documenting the annual Northwestern High School prom as part of Canepari’s larger project Flint is a Place.

“Zack had been to one the previous year and reached out to me,” Nordeman explains. Nordeman, who shoots for The New Yorker, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New York Times Magazine, was invited to photograph the scene for a body of work titled Prom in Flint that captures the senior class celebrating in their flyest finery and enjoying a classic American rite of passage.

Northwestern High School students prepare for a group photo before their prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Northwestern High School students prepare for a group photo before their prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

 

“The best thing about jumping in when I did was the energy and excitement level was already up,” Nordeman reveals. “I was very fortunate to be with these two twin boys at their home, Antwoin and Antonio Nelson [in blue and purple, respectively]. They had this natural chemistry that twins shared, and their family was around them helping them get ready.”

Together, they hopped into a classic convertible and drove over to the prom. “I will never forget that ride. There was so much excitement. It was a very visceral happiness, anticipation, and celebration all at once. I was in the front seat, the boys were in the back, their mom, Tamaria Lard, was driving, and it was just a pinch-yourself kind of moment.” Nordeman recalls.

A student's shoes and socks match his ride on the way to the Northwestern High School Prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

A student’s shoes and socks match his ride on the way to the Northwestern High School Prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

 

When they pulled up, a huge crowd of people had gathered in the parking lot: “It was very exciting to drive in. The cars pulled in one at a time, the doors opened, and the students got out. There was a crowd of people cheering and clapping. It was like the red carpet arrivals at the Oscars.”

“I feel like life is stilled at these celebratory and ceremonial moments that we all experience, whether it is a wedding, birthday party, prom, or party like the Met Ball,” he explains.

“Even with the water crisis, there is still this chance for a celebration of life and this normal traditional American ritual: prom. I love photographing at events where there is an expectation to be photographed and I try to make myself as open as possible to respond to what was in front of me. A friend said to me, ‘You take uncontrolled pictures of controlled events.’”

An unidentified student arrives in a limousine at the Northwestern High School prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

An unidentified student arrives in a limousine at the Northwestern High School prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Antonio Nelson, 18, looks inside his friend's car on the way to his high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Antonio Nelson, 18, looks inside his friend’s car on the way to his high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Twins Antwoin (in blue) and Anotnio Nelson, 18, arrive at their high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Twins Antwoin (in blue) and Anotnio Nelson, 18, arrive at their high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Students dance at the high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Students dance at the high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Students on the dance floor pose for a group photo at the  Northwestern High School  prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Students on the dance floor pose for a group photo at the Northwestern High School prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Antwoin Nelson, 18, left, and a friend  attend their high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Antwoin Nelson, 18, left, and a friend attend their high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Unidentified students "dab" during the Northestern High School prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Unidentified students “dab” during the Northestern High School prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

An unidentified couple holds hands while talking at their high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

An unidentified couple holds hands while talking at their high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Unidentified students dance during their high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

Unidentified students dance during their high school prom on Saturday, May 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

 

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