My fast-receding teenage years have been much on my mind of late. I'm currently reading a book called Eating the Dinosaur, the latest from the always-fun champion of pop culture, Chuck Klosterman, and in one of his essays (on time travel, no less) he poses a hypothetical question: if you were somehow granted the ability to telephone your fifteen-year-old self, what advice would you give him or her? (The catch is that the entire conversation could only last fifteen seconds, so providing some sort of explanation or context would be impossible—as Klosterman puts it: "You will only be able to give the younger version of yourself a fleeting, abstract message of unclear origin.") This idea has consumed my thoughts over the last few days, and although I haven't come up with a satisfactory answer to this (admittedly slightly silly question), Eve Morgenstern's HHS! submission made me think of those very strange and memorable years, yet again.
Morgenstern's photographs are part of a larger ongoing series, titled Of A Certain Age, for which she photographs women between the approximate ages of 13 and 40, as a response to, and means by which to examine her own aging. Her five photographs for HHS!, however, deal exclusively with adolescent and teenage girls; girls on the brink of womanhood. From her artist's statement:
I was in my late thirties when I started taking these images and now at 40, I am acutely aware of the closing door on this stage of life for a woman and all that it signifies. I am attracted to each one of my subjects for the hold their impressions have on me at this moment in their lives and in mine. Through this process of portrait taking I am working through my own feelings about entering 'middle age' and the ever-growing distance from my youth. These few images were taken recently on the streets of Brooklyn and in Amsterdam in Upstate NY. The prom girls were trying dresses on the street in Bedford Stuyvesant and the girls in Amsterdam were on their way home from school before the summer began. All of them appeared to me like young goddesses, very young yet hinting at their futures ahead.
Pink Prom Dress, Brooklyn, NY, 2010 by Eve Morgenstern
While Morgenstern's titles seem at first to have been chosen in the interest of maintaining the girls' anonymity and privacy—though it's also possible that she just never found out their names, as they were strangers she encountered on the street—I find it fascinating that she (with a single exception) identifies her subjects solely by the the clothes they wear. During a time where how one looks and presents themselves to others can seem so important, so critical, it feels telling that Morgenstern chose to emphasize, to draw our attention to this interest in appearance. (That she chose also to photograph girls trying on prom dresses seems similarly pointed).
The choice to photograph these girls in their own neighborhoods while spending time with friends and going about the business of their youth also seems important. They are not removed from their normal contexts for awkward, staged, studio portraits, but rather encouraged to pose in an environment where they feel at ease, and presumably more powerful. This aspect of the work, in combination with the emphasis on style and appearance suggested by the titles, succeeds in alluding to both the exciting new freedom and the inevitable insecurities that so often accompany one's teenage years.
Girl in Plaid Jacket, Amsterdam, NY , 2010 by Eve Morgenstern
These girls look for the most part a little guarded, defiant and uncertain, but I can see how they represent hope and expectation for Morgenstern. Ultimately, these photographs pretty accurately capture what I remember being a bizarre, sometimes difficult, and yet incredibly exciting age—one full of change and of seemingly limitless potential and possibility.
More of Morgenstern's work, from this series and from others, can be viewed on her website.