News & Politics

Heroes of the Crisis: A Photographer Who Captured a Missed Rite of Passage

Matt Mendelsohn's photos of graduating Arlington seniors are unexpectedly emotional.

Photograph by Jeff Elkins

This article is part of Washingtonian‘s feature “Heroes of the Crisis.” From medical professionals to social-justice activists to culinary stars, here are some of the people who have helped get us through these most challenging of times. Read about the 15 people making a difference during the pandemic here.

Matt Mendelsohn
Photojournalist and founder of Matt Mendelsohn Creative

In April, Mendelsohn’s daughter asked him to photograph her in the dress she’d planned to wear to a high-school dance that was canceled due to Covid. “We both had this sense of melancholy,” he recalls. “It got me thinking about all the rites of passage that were being lost.” Thus began a three-month project in which Mendelsohn—who has documented everything from the Gulf War to the Academy Awards for UPI and USA Today—shot nearly 400 seniors at Yorktown High School in Arlington, all at a safe distance and with a long lens. The unexpectedly emotional images went viral. “I thought: Mission accomplished,” Mendelsohn says. “The goal was not photographic. The goal was recognition for these seniors.”

This article appears in the October 2020 issue of Washingtonian.

Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.