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Mario Tama, a Getty Images staff photographer since 2001 and based in New York, has covered conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan - as well as numerous humanitarian crises and natural disasters in the US and around the world, including most recently the earthquake in Haiti and the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri. He's also spent extensive time documenting Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath. Mario will be working on several feature stories in Brazil, ahead of the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Energy, his first work featured in this post. The summit aims to overcome years of deadlock over environmental concerns and marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Brazil is now the world's sixth largest economy and is set to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Mario’s' editor on the project describes him as passionate and enthusiastic about showing us pieces of a country in which he has traveled before, drawn by the people, the culture and the economics/development of the region. -- Paula Nelson (48 photos total)
Federal highway BR-222, June 9, 2012 in Para state, Brazil. Highway construction through Amazonian rainforest has led to accelerated rates of deforestation. Although deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is down 80 percent since 2004, environmentalists fear recent changes to the Forest Code will lead to further destruction. Around 20 percent of the rainforest has already been destroyed. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
International pressure mounted on the Assad regime in Syria following a massacre of 108 people, nearly half of them children, in the Houla region. Olympic hopefuls trained for the London Games in far flung locations and Joplin, Missouri, marked one year since tornadoes ripped through the area.

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For kids and communities across America, prom night is both an enduring rite of passage and a sign of the times. This April, TIME commissioned photographer Gillian Laub to document this ritual in a journey that would take her across the country to Georgia, Missouri, Arizona, Oregon, New York and Massachusetts. In the resulting photo essay, “Last Dance,” Laub captured the bittersweet anticipation and excitement surrounding the annual tradition through a series of striking portraits of teenage prom attendees.

“Last Dance” is, in many ways, the culmination of a 10-year project for the New York City based photographer. One of the schools that appears in the essay, Montgomery County High School in Mount Vernon, Ga., first appeared on Laub’s radar when she traveled there in 2002 to photograph its homecoming festivities, then segregated by race, on an assignment with SPIN magazine. Seven years later, she returned to photograph Montgomery County High School’s prom, still segregated by race, for a project that was published by the New York Times magazine.

That would be the last time Montgomery County High School held a segregated prom, and Laub returned again this April to photograph students getting ready for just the third integrated event in the school’s history. “Naturally the first prom I photographed for the TIME essay was Montgomery County High School,” Laub says. “I wanted to follow the only biracial couple attending the prom. Only three years earlier they wouldn’t have been allowed to be each other’s dates.”

The word “prom” first appeared in 1894 in the journal of an Amherst College student going to a prom at Smith College nearby. In the century since, prom has become a distinctly high school tradition, a last chance for classmates to party together, before post-graduation plans send them in different directions. Today, as Laub’s pictures show, getting ready for prom plays as big a role as the dance itself; it plays out to big business, too. A 2012 survey predicted families would spend an average of $1,078 on prom, including costs for outfits, hair, makeup and manicures. The Dwight-Englewood girls wearing haute designers like Alice Temperley and Roberto Cavalli almost certainly spent much more, while many students from Joplin High School in Joplin, Mo.—the site of a devastating tornado a little over a year ago—arrived at prom in donated attire.

Proms represent other rites of passage too. On May 19 in Massachusetts, the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth hosted its 32nd annual prom—the nation’s oldest for GLBT youth—10 days after Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to endorse gay marriage.

“I love the ritual, the time, effort and thought about every detail of preparation to put their best foot forward,” says Laub about documenting proms. “It’s a moment in their lives of transition and hope.” For the students, yes, and perhaps for their schools and communities, too.

See more about proms in this week’s issue of TIME and on TIME.com.

Gillian Laub is a photographer based in New York and a frequent contributor to TIME. See more of her work here

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One year ago, the small town of Joplin, Missouri, was devastated by an EF5 Tornado. A mile-wide multiple-vortex tornado, with estimated winds peaking at 362 to 402 km/h (225 to 250 mph), tore through the area on May 22, destroying more than 7,000 houses, killing 161 people, and injuring hundreds more. The task of rebuilding is underway, but the scale is daunting -- a year later, Joplin still has an eight-mile scar running through its middle. Gathered here are images of the town on this somber anniversary. [See also, Tornado Ravages Joplin, Missouri, from last year.] [30 photos]

A tall steel cross is refracted in raindrops on a window in Joplin, Missouri, on May 7, 2012. The cross is all that was left standing of St. Mary's Catholic Church, which was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado that tore through a large swath of the city and killed 161 people nearly a year ago. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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The satellite images of Joplin, Mo., that are available on Google Maps were taken within the last year, after the devastating tornado of May 22, 2011, that killed more than 160 people. Buildings across the city appear as matchsticks in those aerial views, which have been preserved by the Internet as the picture of Joplin.

But when photographer Greg Miller arrived in Joplin to photograph the city in the days leading up to the tornado’s one-year anniversary, it looked like everything had been fixed. “I had to ask somebody where the damage was,” he says. Miller, who says that Joplin is much larger than he expected and eventually drove out to the areas that are still putting themselves back together. “I realized that not by a long shot has everything been rebuilt.”

For one thing: there are no trees. That was, Miller says, the most dramatic evidence of the destruction. “They had tons of trees in that area and now the trees are either gone or stripped of their leaves,” he says.

It was in a cemetery that the extent of the damage really hit home for the photographer. He figured there were other priorities in the town and no way the people would take the time to right any monuments that had been knocked over—but, even as he thought that, he stumbled upon some men in the process of fixing the place up. “The guys were trying to figure out where the tombstones went. A 500-lb. tombstone, this piece of solid granite, had been tossed maybe 20 feet away,” he says. “Cars, much bigger than 500 lbs., were moved around too; maybe I’m a little numb to the pictures of cars. Seeing that stone…I thought, wow, that must been really a strong wind.”

It wasn’t just a reminder of the strength of the tornado itself. It was also a reminder of the strength of the people. After all, he didn’t actually see cars still piled up in the streets of Joplin. And some people, like a woman thankful for her Habitat for Humanity house who Miller met when photographing her two children waiting at the bus stop, managed to see a silver lining.

And that attitude fit with Miller’s photographic goals. There were still piles of debris, he says, and still empty foundations. There were sad moments to photograph, evidence of loss. But, for one thing, Miller felt like there were so many pictures of that destruction that there was no point making another. And for another, that felt like the old Joplin, the satellite-picture Joplin, not the Joplin of today.

“Definitely there was an upbeat mood in the town. Because of the anniversary, they don’t go to that dark place. They’re staying in this place of like, look, we’re going to make this happen,” he says. “One person I spoke to said it wiped Joplin off the map and then put it on the map.”

Greg Miller is a photographer based in New York City. See more of his work here.

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For a number of reasons, natural and human, people have recently evacuated or otherwise abandoned a number of places around the world -- large and small, old and new. Gathering images of deserted areas into a single photo essay, one can get a sense of what the world might look like if humans were to vanish from the planet altogether. Collected here are recent scenes from nuclear-exclusion zones, blighted urban neighborhoods, towns where residents left to escape violence, unsold developments built during the real estate boom, ghost towns, and more. [41 photos]

A tree grows from the top of a chimney in an abandoned factory yard in Luque, on the outskirts of Asuncion, Paraguay, on October 2 , 2011. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

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The second collection of images from 2011 once again brought us nature at its full force with floods, drought, wild fires, tornadoes and spectacular images of volcanic eruptions. The death of Osama bin Laden, the attack on an island in Norway by a lone gunman, continued fighting in Libya, and protests around the globe were a few of the news events dominating the headlines. -- Lloyd Young Please see part 1 from Monday and watch for part 3 Friday. (45 photos total)
A cloud of ash billowing from Puyehue volcano near Osorno in southern Chile, 870 km south of Santiago, on June 5. Puyehue volcano erupted for the first time in half a century on June 4, 2011, prompting evacuations for 3,500 people as it sent a cloud of ash that reached Argentina. The National Service of Geology and Mining said the explosion that sparked the eruption also produced a column of gas 10 kilometers (six miles) high, hours after warning of strong seismic activity in the area. (Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty Images) )

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The best photos of 2011 from around the globe. Warning: All images in this entry are shown in full, not screened out for graphic content. Some images contain dead bodies, graphic content and tragic events. We consider these images an important part of human history.

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2011 was a year of global tumult, marked by widespread social and political uprisings, economic crises, and a great deal more. We saw the fall of multiple dictators, welcomed a new country (South Sudan), witnessed our planet's population grow to 7 billion, and watched in horror as Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster. From the Arab Spring to Los Indignados to Occupy Wall Street, citizens around the world took to the streets in massive numbers, protesting against governments and financial institutions, risking arrest, injury, and in some cases their lives. Collected here is Part 2 of a three-part photo summary of the last year, covering 2011's middle months. Be sure to also see Part 1, and Part 3 of this series totaling 120 images in all. [40 photos]

Surf rescue swimmer Doug Knutzen carries Dale Ostrander to the shore of Long Beach, Washington, on August 5, 2011. Rescue swimmers Eddie Mendez (left) and Will Green had found Ostrander in the surf, after the boy was underwater for more than 20 minutes. Ostrander was hospitalized and placed in a medically induced coma for a time, but has since returned home and started the 7th grade. His recovery is still in progress, as he continues to undergo speech and physical therapy. (AP Photo/Damian Mulinix/Chinook Observer)

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