Who’d be a young teen? Not old enough to get laid but not young enough to be a child. You’re just a strange formless mass of baby fat and peach fuzz, with hormones that make you feel upset if someone says ‘Hello’ to you in the wrong way.
Such a state of being demands to be captured for posterity but somehow rarely is. Possibly because taking pictures of teens involves being with them for an extended period of time. Something most parents would recommend against.
Rineke Dijkstra in her superb show at the Guggenheim braved this world in the early nineties to bring us a series of images of teens at their most gorky and uncomfortable, standing on a beach in their bathing costumes.
The background is soft focus; all the detail of the images is saved for these vulnerable wide-eyed inbetweeners who stand in the foreground viewing the camera with suspicion or confusion, as if it were an animal they had never encountered before.
Whether it’s a beach in Carolina or the Ukraine the awkwardness is there, though we also note the small details that let us know where we are. A boy’s absurdly old school swimming trunks scream eastern bloc, a girls posture and blonde hairdo scream USA.
Somehow we want to go back and look at these images again and again hoping to define another small detail that explains why they are so compelling.
One of the subjects actually came to the Guggenheim to see the image of her teen self and was said to have been amazed at how awkward she looked.
That said her mother was apparently screaming at her from behind the photographer to ‘suck her stomach in’. Not a state of affairs that tends to lead to very natural poses.
The exhibition also features images of mothers post giving birth and bullfighters post bullfight and while these images are beautiful they don’t have quite the pulling power of the beach series.
It would seem the agonizing pain of childbirth doesn’t leave you as vulnerable as just being 13. Though I’m sure neither is something the participants would want to go through again.