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Baltimore Photography Teacher Celebrates Canceled Prom With Socially Distanced Portraits

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Senior proms throughout the country have been canceled due to the pandemic, but a photography teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts has found a way to celebrate prom season through socially distanced portraits. WYPR's Emily Sullivan reports.

EMILY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Emilia Vizachero is posing for photographer Joe Giordano on the steps of her soon-to-be alma mater, the Baltimore School for the Arts.

JOE GIORDANO: Can I get a shot of you taking the - like, take the mask off from the front for me. I guess I'm far enough away. I - my viewfinder keeps fogging up because of the mask.

SULLIVAN: Vizachero obliges and slowly removes a royal-blue mask that perfectly matches her skirt.

EMILIA VIZACHERO: I thought, you know, with this new situation, if I'm going to be wearing a mask, I might as well make an outfit out of it. So I did.

SULLIVAN: For Vizachero and the rest of her graduating class, there is no prom this year. But Giordano, who teaches a black-and-white photography class at the school, wanted to give the seniors a sense of normalcy by documenting the milestones. So the award-winning photojournalist set up a black backdrop on the school's art deco steps and invited students to come by dressed in their would-be prom outfits.

GIORDANO: Unfortunately, we can't do dates. We can't do two people 'cause of social distancing. But it actually works out better because the students are - feel more comfortable modeling and not so stiff as, like, a formal prom, old-school yearbook picture. And I don't pose them. I - it's kind of more of, like, a collaboration. I let them do the posing so they feel comfortable with how they want to be represented.

SULLIVAN: Dozens of seniors dropped by the school donned in their finest attire. Most of them hadn't seen each other in months. Samantha Buker is a program manager at the school and an alumni. She says she's proud of the close-knit class for obeying social distancing during the photo shoots.

SAMANTHA BUKER: You know, just leaving the school on a normal day, they...

(SOUNDBITE OF KISSING NOISES)

BUKER: You know, bye, et cetera. So I was a little worried that we wouldn't be able to keep them apart, but they're ace champions about it.

SULLIVAN: Some seniors say they're especially disappointed prom was canceled because of the weird and wonderful outfits always showcased there. Here's senior Ethan Pound.

ETHAN POUND: A good friend of mine that graduated two years ago wore jorts (ph) to prom his senior year and, like, a pink polo shirt. Like - and there's just such a wide variety of people making their own outfits, you know, and dressing up in weird ways for the occasion.

SULLIVAN: Pound donned a slick blue velvet jacket for his portrait. Isabelle Rawa were a bold red blazer.

ISABELLE RAWA: I bought this in, like, the winter. And then I thought, oh, this would be great for prom.

SULLIVAN: Prom was just one thing taken away from the seniors. As they waited their turn to pose for Giordano, they dreamed aloud of what would've been. Again, here's Rawa.

RAWA: I'm a violinist, so I've played in the graduation for all three years that I've been here. And I was so excited to finally have them play for me as I'm, like, walking up and walking down.

SULLIVAN: Rawa and fellow senior Joshua Moore mourned the loss of one crucial tradition.

JOSHUA MOORE: It's kind of really hard to describe how this has been. It's, like, really been sad, honestly. Like, we were, like, really excited to have, like, a senior prank. I was looking forward to that.

RAWA: We were going to wrap up all of the chairs in the recital hall (laughter).

SULLIVAN: The seniors are clear - having the festivities of senior week and graduation taken away unequivocally hurts. But, they say, at least they'll have the prom portraits. Vizachero says she hopes that a few years from now, she'll be able to look back on the portraits that Giordano took and feel joy.

VIZACHERO: This is definitely a senior year that we are not going to forget, and I think having a picture that's kind of unique like this is something that I'll be grateful for.

SULLIVAN: For NPR News, I'm Emily Sullivan in Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.