Annabelle is 11 years old. She’s at once an average prepubescent American girl, and a rare breed of superstar. She loves her brand-new iPhone 8 Plus. She adores McDonald’s (in particular the #7 meal). More recently, she has been experimenting with a newfound passion for make-up, particularly glitter. She has a hard-working single mother, Tanya. She loves to swim, wear tie-dye, draw, and ask questions. Most importantly for Japanese photographer Fumi Nagasaka – whose work shines a light on the diverse American youths of her adopted home – Annabelle loves being in front of the camera.
“When I first saw Annabelle she had bluey-greenish hair and was wearing a Nirvana t-shirt,” recalls Nagasaka of her first encounter with the then-eight-year-old, who would go on to become her favourite photographic subject. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, who is this girl?’’’
Nagasaka lives on the same street as Annabelle and her mum and sister in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. After a chance meeting with the eldest sister, Sophie, she started photographing Annabelle, and in late 2016 included the images in Untitled Youth, a photobook filled with enigmatic portraits of the young people she has been meeting and shooting throughout her career. “They became my family,” says the photographer. “Last summer we all travelled together almost every weekend, going upstate or to West Virginia, driving around taking photos. Annabelle and I would share a bed in the motels; I think she sees me as a big sister.”
When the photographs of Annabelle were published in Untitled Youth, Nagasaka went to Annabelle’s school to show her classmates the images. “I was showing these kids and we were talking about self-esteem,” she remembers. “Annabelle was standing next to me in front of the class, telling them her experiences. She said, ‘I was very insecure about my weight, but since Fumi took my pictures, I’m confident about it.’ It was really amazing how she could talk about that to the other kids. I hope these photos can make kids think differently if they’re insecure about themselves, too.”