purity ball

in 2007 stacey delorenzo at glamour magazine sent me to colorado springs to cover a purity ball, an elaborate party where a father signs a vow to protect his daughter and his daughter pledges her chastity to her father until she marries. the ball was conceived by pastor randy wilson of the generations of light ministry. unsurprisingly, he is a father of 5 daughters. i was lucky enough to cover a purity ball hosted by its originators.

i was so excited to photograph this event. it's such an unusual occasion, a curious mixing of religion, sex, childhood, and valor. the coupling of tuxedo-ed men with young women and girls dressed in white party dresses ensured great visuals. photographing the purity ball was an exercise in keeping an open mind. regardless of my beliefs this was an event that had tremendous significance to the participants, half of them young girls. i had no desire to ridicule them or to make them look naive.

the evening started with a dinner, then came the reading and signing of the oaths (a few of the very young girls couldn't write yet), some exchanged rings or jewelry, next came a dance showcase performed by young ladies. some of the dancers were attendees, others were siblings or friends who had attended their own balls. the evening culminated with father and daughter walking beneath upraised swords to lay a white rose at the base of a large, wooden cross the dancers had carried into the ballroom.

the evening presented a surprise; another photographer, from O magazine (who was also a client of mine). neither of us knew the other was going to be present. we introduced ourselves and were polite but as the night wore on it started to get a little competitive! not only were we vying for the best angles i had to make sure not to get him in my framing. i felt i had to keep track of whom i was selecting to profile and made sure we were not photographing the same father and daughter. i had the advantage of being able to approach the young girls without suspicion or threat just becasue i was a woman. i was so glad i wore a black cocktail dress and asked my assistant to wear a jacket and dress shoes for this shoot. we blended in well and our semi formal attired implied a respect for their ceremony.

in addition to the documentary style photos of the event i set up a portrait studio in a little used hallway just outside the ballroom. i photographed fathers with the daughters prom style on my 4x5 film camera and gave away polaroids to my sitters as momentos of the evening.

as i write this is surprises me how much has changed in less than 10 years, not only in my own work flow and choice of camera equipment, but with photography in print and social media. personally, i started out shooting film on a 4x5 linhof, to shooting digital on an alpa and leaf back, to canon 35mm digital, and recently reintroduced a 4x5 linhof to my camera case.

 

                                                pastor randy wilson with his daughter