With one of the most tragi-comic opening paragraphs to any article I’ve read for a long time, Caitlin Flanagan’s recent story on US college fraternities for The Atlantic also made use of some great imagery, courtesy of Philip Toledano…
The Dark Power of Fraternities is Flanagan’s year-long account of the men’s ‘general’ or ‘social’ fraternities which have been a feature of American campuses since the nation’s founding. The resulting investigation is the cover story of The Atlantic’s March issue.
Far from the beer-swilling cliché of any college party scence in a Hollywood film, fraternities also have “a long, dark history of violence against their own members and visitors to their houses, which makes them in many respects at odds with the core mission of college itself,” writes Flanagan.
“Lawsuits against fraternities are becoming a growing matter of public interest, in part because they record such lurid events, some of them ludicrous, many more of them horrendous.”
Toledano’s images adhere to the familiar tropes of fraternity life – the upmarket casual dress, the mouth fixed in the “YEAHH!” position – but add in a sense of the storm which has long been brewing. Each ‘member’ is photographed engaging in some hardcore drinking, but shot in freefall.
To get the photographs, Toledano apparently used a trampoline to “create a sort of frat-boy ballet” – with the young men spilling drink everywhere in the process. At first glance they’re a funny counterpoint to Flanagan’s dark tale, but seem creepier when you realise that these are characters clearly out of control.