Alli, Annie, Hannah, and Berit -- WEEKLY DISCUSSION # 2

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by cyanatic, Nov 24, 2013.

  1. Full title: Alli, Annie, Hannah, and Berit, all 13, before the first big party of the seventh grade, Edina, Minnesota
    Photographer: Lauren Greenfield, from her book "Girl Culture"
    http://24.media.tumblr.com/f4a0b06279bec60dfd70c8a571f79a24/tumblr_mnif24IFzM1qzg5ooo1_1280.jpg
    I wanted to choose a photograph that said something to me, but which would not be characteristic of 90% of the type of work I normally do myself (black and white urban documentary/street). I was going to choose something way, way outside the realm of what I do and understand (ex: Adam Fuss' Details of Love ), but then I'd have little to say about it outside of "You guys tell me what you make of this".
    The photo I did choose is from Greenfield's 2002 book, "Girl Culture". I have seen many photos from it online, but have not looked through the entire book itself. A Time Magazine review of the book described it thus:
    A new book by photographer Lauren Greenfield reveals the insecurities, dreams and secret rituals of American girls. What emerges is a portrait of two generations growing up too fast...​
    As the father of a 14 year old girl, a photo like this one, depicting the life of early teen girls, has a natural interest for me. But if I were childless, it would still interest me from a documentary and sociological standpoint. My daughter is largely atypical of the girls in Greenfield's photo (interested in personal appearance, yes, but more of an "old soul" and leery of growing up too fast), but she is not immune to the immense pressures, confusions, and insecurities encountered by contemporary girls at that age.
    The photo itself: Seen on its own, with no prior knowledge of the photographer, it could almost be a snapshot taken by one of the girls parents. I'm not big on technical details (at least not in this image because how it was captured is not an integral part of its significance), but closer examination causes me to suspect that it was taken in shade utilizing fill light from off camera flash. The late afternoon shadows of the trees against the houses in the background indicate a stronger more contrasty light than that which illuminates the four girls in this image. I'll let others more knowledgeable of these things comment on the technical aspects. (Edit - On closer examination, maybe there was no fill flash used? Not a big deal, but I'm curious to hear from someone more knowledgeable. I know nada about artificial lighting...a knowledge gap I intend to fix at some point.)
    After a brief perusal of the photo (as well as an instinctive and unbidden passing of judgement on which girl among the four seems the cutest), my gaze eventually locks on to the girl at far right, casting a gaze toward the left that almost looks like envy ("I wish I were as 'hot' as Alli"). This could be a misreading, perhaps she just happened to glance over in that direction at the moment the shutter snapped. One of those illusions of reality that can occur in a seemingly objective photograph.
    Each girl strikes a different pose. Of the three, Hannah (third from left) seems the most studied. A pose she may be imitating from something she saw in a fashion magazine.
    I don't want to go on too long because I want to read what other people have to say. I'll close with my personal reaction. Being the father of a girl of that age group, seeing other girls of that age, and having talked to adult women about what it is like to be a girl at that age, there is something very poignant, nearly heart rending, about this photograph. Although the photograph probably gains power when seen as a larger body of work (i.e., the entire book Girl Culture), it stands on its own as a telling moment in the life of these four girls.
     
  2. Despite the differences in facial expression there is an unsettling homogeny in play here.
    Perhaps that speaks more to my not being a father, other people's kids all seeming alike, I dunno.
     
  3. Clearly, it's not an informal snapshot, where you would expect to see some interaction among the girls. I think what we're seeing is a posed shot, with each girl trying to present a different attitude. On the left, a "typical, middle class, all-American" teenager; next to her, a girl showing some interest, and yet some suspicion, too; next, budding sensuality; and, on the right, social isolation, perhaps some rebellion, indicated by her expression and her stance, facing in a different direction from the others. The poses would be consistent with Lauren Greenfield's objective...
     
  4. This sparked a trip down memory lane for me.
    Well, one day last year I was in the university recreation center, walking on the treadmill looking into the Olympic-sized pool, when what was apparently a multi-grade representation from a small-town school came in.
    Some very large percentage of the kids, from different age groups, had red hair and very similar facial features.
    ¿Wasn't there some X-Files show where a bunch of kids from a town were all born with tails?
     
  5. All I see in the linked photo--assuming it's what being discussed--is an artefact of the pre-selfie 2002 milieu and very little else.
     
  6. Interesting observations. C Watson, I'm not clear on what you mean by pre-selfie 2002 milieu. If it refers to a mindless self-absorption, that is precisely what the photograph is not about. Even seen as a standalone image, with no knowledge of the body of work it comes from, I'm not sure I would arrive at that conclusion.
    A portion of one review:
    The stunning photographs of young women, interspersed with a few celebrities, are juxtaposed with essays told in first person by some of the girls themselves. Commenting on topics ranging from exotic dancing to weight-loss camp, competitive swimming to a high-school dance, these ladies are alternately self-assured and searching, confident and struggling to figure out what it means to be a woman in today's society. The images are important for the glimpse they give into the real thoughts of these girls, and reading them one is reminded of her own childhood and the desperation and exhilaration that is felt from one moment to the next. My one very small complaint is that not all of the girls who have contributed essays are pictured. The ones who are in the photos next to their essays are the most compelling because you are seeing the outward face of the person who just shared her innermost thoughts with you. Anyone interested in women's studies, photography, or sociology will find this a must-read.​
     
  7. My first impression is that it looks as though one of their moms snapped it with a cell phone. I'll look at it again with fresh eyes in a day or two to see if it grows on me. Maybe I'm missing something.
     
  8. It strikes me that this could be the characters from "Desperate Housewives" in a teenage throwback episode: the "girl next door", the serious type A/ focused, the vixen, and the outsider/schemer personalities all represented here. This is not so say these things of these specific girls, but of the image they present in the photo. (This is the way I see the photo as it relates to DH characters: Susan, Bree, Gabrielle, and Lynnette , l-r).
    After all, adolescence is a time for "trying on" different personae and for learning to know and understand your natural inclinations and for beginning to form whom one is to become. This photo presents it well, I think.
    If these girls are friends that last for more than the few years of High School, what a great portrait they will have!
    Nice pic, Steve!
     
  9. When my daughter was that age (about 10 years ago) none of her pictures looked like that. She and her friends always hammed it up to the max for the camera, to the point that I threatened to not take any more pictures of them. These 4 seem very serious and respectful by contrast. No tongues sticking out, or goggled-eyes, or rabbit fingers. I do like the warmth and the relatively similar expression on three of their faces. It leaves me with the sense that they are on the edge of something. . . new?
     
  10. Dan South -- My first impression is that it looks as though one of their moms snapped it with a cell phone. I'll look at it again with fresh eyes in a day or two to see if it grows on me. Maybe I'm missing something.​
    I don't think you're missing anything, Dan. Although "Mom" wouldn't have had a cell phone camera in 2002, she could have taken this with a disposable camera. You're saying that this looks like a family snapshot. In some ways, I would agree with you. Based on many of the comments made so far, it sounds as if this photograph loses much of its significance once it is taken outside the body of work from which it comes. Or can it stand alone as a revealing moment in the life of these four girls? Does it still make a significant observation on what it is like to be a teenage girl in the 21st century?
     
  11. I think that shot is under exposed by at least half a stepford.
     
  12. It reminds me a bit of a photo by Garry Winnogrand:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/13353393@N07/7159568295/
    I can't really say I "like" the photo, at least from an aesthetic standpoint, but I do find it fascinating, particularly the expressions of the second and fourth girls. Perhaps there's a tiny bit of something somewhere in the photo for each of us to identify with. Speaking only for myself, I think of myself like that fourth girl, not quite fitting in, almost living amongst an alien species and observing their peculiar habits. So the image strikes a personal chord with me. Interesting.
     
  13. Steve, I'll admit that I didn't read the back story. I wanted to evaluate the photo on its own merits. I'm going to look at it again for a couple of days. After that, I'll read what you have posted to understand the context, which might change my impression. But I wanted to start out with a fresh perspective.
     
  14. Interesting pick, Steve.
    The picture is well suited in the context of her book. The absence of "great photography" in this case is an enhancement representative of their emergence from preteen and their transformation in anticipation of a new phase in life. Their respective pose and facial expression is also an accurate representation of individual personality differences that in some way almost serves as a predictor of their future.
    The introductory video should be viewed to place the photo in context:
    http://www.laurengreenfield.com/index.php?p=VPGHSTCS
    I like it, even with the tree growing out of the second girl's head.
     
  15. An interesting sociological study - clearly these girls are not interested in staying kids a moment longer than necessary - they really look like a bunch of miniaturised 25-year-olds.
     
  16. I don't mean to distract from the thread, Steve, but I think Lauren Greenfield's "Kids and Money" project adds some context to the photo, at least in the girls' underlying psychology resulting from the influences around them:
    http://www.laurengreenfield.com/index.php?p=CCLHWY93
     
  17. Just to make clear -- Part of this is a learning exercise for myself. Like Dan, I prefer to initially approach a photograph with as few preconceptions and as little backstory as possible. Although I was already aware of the photo in the context of "Girl Culture", I think it's instructive and important to hear observations about this photograph outside that context. Likewise, anything which contributes to a greater understanding of Greenfield and her photograph is also important. In that regard, Michael, I don't think you're distracting from the thread at all. I have no agenda for this thread, or this photograph. I enjoy and learn from all the comments.
     
  18. It's a photograph best viewed within the body of work it is part of.
     
  19. Interesting observations. C Watson, I'm not clear on what you mean by pre-selfie 2002 milieu. If it refers to a mindless self-absorption, that is precisely what the photograph is not about. Even seen as a standalone image, with no knowledge of the body of work it comes from, I'm not sure I would arrive at that conclusion.
    My only point is that the shot's not very informative about 2013. That's simply not the world that made the girls in the Greenfield photo.
    But, as Errol Morris says, "believing is seeing." His book of that title is worth a look sometime.
     
  20. I think looking at a photo within a context or with an accompanying back story is very different from having preconceptions. Preconceptions tend to narrow one's field of view. A context tends to widen it. A context is often the bigger picture. On that score, this photo does appreciate when viewed in context.
    I agree with Matt that there's a stepford quality, which I quite like but which also puts me off, and that tension makes me appreciate the whole even more. As aware as I am of the girls, I am very much aware of their environment and how they're placed in it. They are the centers of their universe, hogging the frame as it were. Their homes, skewed and bathed in sunlight in the background, are like a dream or an afterthought that they haven't quite escaped.
    The color palette and sensibility utilized throughout the series is, firstly, extremely consistent, as far as I can tell from what I saw and from a screen rendering. It is benign but has a richness of its own. It's harmonious, as one would expect a stepford world to be. It's a seemingly innocent world of pastels. It adds to a sense of lurking possibility and even foreboding to me. A lot seems to be just under the surface here. The surface seems to be snap-shotty and non-threatening but also seems to be glossing over something betrayed in the expressions and body language. Within the body of work, there seems to be visual commentary on what otherwise might be a series of snapshots of young girls.
    Stepfordism, or indeed any imposed characterization on subjects such as these, is interesting. There is artifice upon artifice being utilized and addressed here, from the imitation of family-album snapshots to the girls' posturing. All those layers of artifice taken together, perhaps, paint a frighteningly real portrait.
     
  21. My impressions of only the photo linked, but not the series, are not too different from those of C Watson or Dan South. The girls are acting, a natural acting to be sure, but simply that, acting. I would like to see a casual shot of these ladies rather than a posed one. It might not tell anything, but it would probably have more potential to do so. The girl on the right has the most interesting expression for me. She seems to be less interested in playing to the photographer. I look forward to Steve's remarks and those of others to come, as we may not all see things in the same way.
    Just realised that they are only 13 and getting ready for a social event. I guess that they are just trying to look older and more adult than they are. A normal obsession.
     
  22. clearly these girls are not interested in staying kids a moment longer than necessary - they really look like a bunch of miniaturised 25-year-olds.
    Just realised that they are only 13 and getting ready for a social event. I guess that they are just trying to look older and more adult than they are. A normal obsession.​
    Spot on, David and Arthur.
     
  23. These girls are from Edina, Minnesota, which according to the Wiki page is the most affluent suburb of Minneapolis–Saint Paul and home to a few billionaires, country clubs and higher educational institutions:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edina,_Minnesota
    The page also describes a high achievement record of its youth by graduation rate.
    So to complicate matters further by putting Greenfield's book into context within the framework of this photo, these girls represent the upper-class youths from the twin cities area. Though they are not immune to influence by popular culture, and their apparent behavior might superficially resemble youths elsewhere, I suspect their local culture and traditions will ultimately dictate their choices as they venture through their teens.

    I was initially struck by their rather conservative dresses; now it makes more sense, and the poses are probably nothing more than a playful moment in front of a camera after being all prettied-up while being observed by the photographer.
     
  24. So to complicate matters further by putting Greenfield's book into context within the framework of this photo, these girls represent the upper-class youths from the twin cities area. Though they are not immune to influence by popular culture, and their apparent behavior might superficially resemble youths elsewhere, I suspect their local culture and traditions will ultimately dictate their choices as they venture through their teens.
    If we're parsing this type of photo for socio-cultural/pyschological/class clues, then something far newer than 2002 might be more meaningful. Just curious how things have gone for post-recession Edina? In many cities, 2013 is a very different place than 2002.
     
  25. Matt Laur [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG], Nov 24, 2013; 09:53 p.m.
    I think that shot is under exposed by at least half a stepford.​
    I just can't let this comment pass without expressing my appreciation, Matt.
     
  26. The photo speaks loudly and clearly to me because I'm so familiar with the context. I have daughters who went through the social pressures of the 1990s, and have seen other girls in my family experience the same rites of passage. The same desperation to fit in, while being... different. The same look of barely concealed doubt.
    But because I have that context, based on personal experience, I can see why this photo might not speak to other viewers. As others have suggested, it might work better for some viewers within the context of Greenfield's larger body of work.
    Their poses seem very much of-an-era, between the artless poses of pre-Hollywood girls, and those who have never known a life without the potential for an international audience only a single click away, who often seem so excessively camera conscious, their facades a mass rictus for online consumption that read like Gertrude Stein's Oakland - there's no there there.
    "That is what makes your identity not a thing that exists but something you do or do not remember." --Gertrude Stein.
     
  27. Lex's reading is not only sociologically astute. It is photographically clarifying as well. It helps answer the question of why obvious poses can sometimes reveal so much of interest.
     
  28. I think it rather sad that at 13yo three of the grls felt they had to pose like those several years older ... the end of childhood so early. But what do I know, I had a son.
     
  29. With my compliments to Lauren Greenfield I think this is an excellent scrapbook photo. It is well composed, lit and suggestive - better than most photos. I feel connected by the photo to a subject/time/place, something I really like in a good snapshot. When I read 'girl culture' I feel I am right where the photographer wants me. My awareness of the photographer is awakened with the lighting and composition. But my respect is primarily due to the photographers ability and willingness to let the subject dominate my thoughts. The scene feels set (and well done) by the photographer but The girls seem free to present themselves as they wish... as they see themselves and or as they want others to see them. A snapshot that feels thoughtful. Spontaneous as if moms took it and nailed it. It catches my attention and makes me think when presented. and it would make me think if it were hung as thoughtfully. Like a photo of tribe members it takes me on a cultural exploration.
    I would hang this photo on my wall but it shines in a greater context. This photo makes me want to revisit the book 'Girl Culture' which I do have but requires a ladder to reach. but my ladder is 10 miles away... who does that?
     
  30. Thanks for the nice take on the photo, jd. Better get that ladder... ;-)
    I understand CWatson's observations that 2002 is different from 2013, but I think there is still a universality (or maybe a modernist universality) represented by the girls, their preparation for a party, their concern with physical appearance, and their varied presentations of self. Acting? A possibility, but I'm not so sure. Some of the girls may be presenting themselves as they truly are, or presenting themselves as they truly believe themselves to be.
     
  31. My impressions of only the photo linked, but not the series, are not too different from those of C Watson or Dan South.​

    Thanks! Any photo in particular? Perhaps the one attached below (a candid, in case that matters to anyone)?
    00cC7k-543851684.jpg
     
  32. It matters to me. Quite different stories. Each insightful in its own way.
    The (self) consciousness and/or (self) awareness of the girls in the OP, the evidence of their posing is telling and very much of the times. Though there are similarities in subject matter, having subjects play to a camera or audience gives me a different feeling as a viewer from watching subjects do mundane things while unawares. The girls' intentionality toward and engagement toward the camera (and me as viewer) is significant. Interestingly, sometimes I feel that strong engagement with the camera is strong engagement with me as viewer. In the photo Steve chose for this discussion, their engagement seems much more for the camera and a generic audience (or themselves) than it does for me personally.
     
  33. "The (self) consciousness and/or (self) awareness of the girls in the OP"
    "there is still (or maybe a modernist universality) represented by the girls,"
    When I view the photo 'Alli, Annie, Hannah, and Berit, all 13, before the first big party of the seventh grade, Edina, Minnesota' as a stand alone I see a snapshot that makes me think. I think of girls becoming young women and I ponder what it means for them and how it compares to boys becoming young men.
    "In the photo Steve chose for this discussion, their engagement seems much more for the camera and a generic audience (or themselves) than it does for me personally." I have the same impression as Fred. And that sense of.. it is about them is what allows me to connect more deeply. and in turn a universality.

    Then in the greater context of 'Girl Culture' there are added layers revealed. Self image, sexuality, objectification, ... this single photo really shines in the context of that work but still able to make me think as a standalone photo. I have never been a 13 year old girl but this makes me think about it for a few minutes.
    Not many photos make me think what it might be like to be whomever.
     
  34. The one thing that jumps out at me is that all four girls seem to have the same fake hair color. When I was 13, girls hadn't started dying their hair yet. Times have changed.
     
  35. Every time I look at the photo, I have to ask, "Why are all the hands amputated?" Is that an intended composition? Is the photographer suggesting that these girls have no use for their hands, or have no clue how to use them?
     
  36. I have flip-flopped on the hands. Sometimes I think I would prefer the hands but more often I think that inclusion would take my attention from the expressions and framing. That would be alot of digits at the bottom of the frame taking my attention. I am mildly bothered (what is less than bothered?) by the partial hands that are visible.
     
  37. I never even noticed the hands. Or the houses. Or trees. Or shadows. Or power lines. Or the cat in the window.
     
  38. Although "Mom" wouldn't have had a cell phone camera in 2002, she could have taken this with a disposable camera.​
    Phone cameras were popular in Japan in 2000. Possibly, before. I can't recall when the technology became widely available in the USA, but it definitely existed well before 2002. "Mom" could also have used a digital point and shoot (widely available since the late 90's).
     
  39. "When I was 13, girls hadn't started dying their hair yet."
    Had hair dye been invented yet? :)

    These girls are 24 years old now. I wonder how they turned out and how they might reflect on the story written about them.
     
  40. I've seen a lot of "mom" snaps of kids - by parents, grandparents, etc. By "a lot" I mean thousands. Tens of thousands. I've kept nearly all of my family's photos, dating back to the 1800s. And I actually enjoy prowling through other people's family photo albums - assuming they're readily available on the coffee table. I usually ask before prowling through nightstand drawers. When folks pass around snapshots, I don't just take polite cursory glances before passing 'em along - I study the damned things.
    Greenfield's photo of the four tweens is *not* a typical "mom" snapshot. I've seen very, very few that captured a moment so perfectly.
    To make a photo look superficially like a snapshot, while being properly exposed, in focus, not blurry from jerking the trigger, and capturing such a perfect moment in time requires real experience, timing and habits so well ingrained that we can call them intuition and instinct.
    Good luck can nab a photo like that once in awhile. Not enough to make a project, let alone one that earns critical acclaim.
    I've taken tens of thousands of family snaps since getting my first digicam 10 years ago. I deliberately try to work in that aesthetic. It ain't easy. Even with my own family and people I know. I can only imagine how difficult it would be for an outsider, especially among increasingly camera-conscious, image-conscious teens now.
     
  41. <<Had hair dye been invented yet? :) >>

    It had been invented, yes, but it was used by grown women, not young teens. (Although some teens did bleach their hair back then
    (1970's). This was before the highlight treatment (partial bleaching) became widespread.
     
  42. Lex, you make an important point. It's another case where we might superficially look at this and say, "anyone can do it." Whereupon the response might be, "then go ahead." Intentionally making a compelling picture that looks like a snapshot is not that easy a task.
     

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