Has anything really changed for teenagers since the 1970s? Have five decades made any impact on the way young people are, and how they see the world? The highs and the lows in which they face? A fascinating new show at Michael Hoppen Gallery presents two photographic series, made nearly fifty years apart, that explore and compare the vulnerability, beauty and ambivalence of adolescence both now and then.
Joe Szabo began his Teenage series when he was appointed as an art teacher at Malverne High School, Long Island in the early 1970s. He started photographing his pupils as a means of engaging with them and building mutual respect. The approach proved to be very effective and Szabo’s students became his ongoing subjects for the next 25 years, as he photographed them at school, at home and at play. The resulting images are a remarkable evocation of the seventies and eighties and yet there is also something timeless and compelling about Szabo’s portrayal of the universal teenager.
Photographer Cornell Capa describes how "Szabo’s camera is sharp, incisive, and young, matching his subjects. One can use many adjectives: revealing, tender, raucous, sexy, showy... in Szabo’s hands, the camera is magically there, the light is always available, the moment is perceived, seen, and caught".
In contrast, Martha is an ongoing collaboration between British photographer Siân Davey and her step-daughter Martha which explores their evolving relationship as well as the lives of Martha and her close friends as they journey through their later teenage years in rural Devon. The level of trust between Davey and all her subjects is reflected in the intimacy and honesty of the photographs, which range from idyllic pastoral scenes reminiscent of Cezanne’s Bathers to an interior shot of a hungry moment eating pizza in a late night kebab shop.
Davey, who is also a psychotherapist, describes her approach to the project: "Firstly, as a mother I’m interested in the relational aspects of adolescence. I’m also fascinated with this developmental stage when a child starts to individuate and separate from their parents. There is this particular point in time when you have a child and adult in the same body, which is why it’s such a complex and potentially confusing time.
"During this period of transition, there is a very short and specific 'window' when a person can behave in a way, which is free of the weight of societal expectations and norms. Before too long the window closes and we can forget how it felt to be 'untethered'."
Untethered will run until 20 May 2017 at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London SW3. Find out more at michaelhoppengallery.com.
Main image: Priscilla, 1969 © Joseph Szabo. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery