Why are photographers so obsessed with youth?

Ryan McGinley, Bruce Davidson and Collier Schorr: the photographers best immortalising our fascination with adolescence

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Bruce Davidson, Brooklyn Gang
From Brooklyn GangPhotography by Bruce Davidson

The allure of youth is ever-present in film, music, photography and fashion, with the ability to transcend culture, location and time. For decades, people have been scrambling to immortalise it however they can, whether that be their own youth or someone else’s – and photographers have perhaps done this better than anyone else. Capturing a millisecond of a moment in time – kissing, laughing, dancing, crying, fighting – such snapshots can last forever as references to a time before, allowing us to trace and compare our own habits, emotions and behaviour with our predecessors. While there are hundreds of visionaries who deserve praise for their work, below we profile a shortlist of some of our favourites – from Bruce Davidson to Collier Schorr and Ryan McGinley.

MIKE BRODIE

When Florida-born photographer Mike Brodie was just 18 years old he left home to go freight-hopping across the USA. Taking his camera along with him, Brodie took to shooting his journey and the friends he met along the way, with his images populated by fellow train-jumpers, homeless people, nomads and squatters. With an oeuvre comprising two books, A Period of Juvenile Prosperity and Tones of Dirt and Bones, Brodie quit photography after just five years, but what he managed to produce in that time offers a comprehensive look into the humble lives of a gang of outsiders that might otherwise remain unknown.

GOSHA RUBCHINSKIY

Gosha Rubchinskiy has the world on a string right now – marrying east and west, the creative ushered in Russia’s new generation of angsty teens and pre-teens through his fashion, film work and photography. Dropping just days after the designer set Paris on fire with his SS15 collection and French debut, Rubchinskiy released his limited edition book Crimea/Kids, which sold out in three days. For those lucky enough to get a glimpse, Rubchinskiy brought his gang of outsiders to the printed page, with images of youth doing what they do best: smoking, making graffiti and skateboarding. We couldn’t get enough.

RYAN MCGINLEY

Ryan McGinley’s portraits of American youth show the kind of devil-may-care attitude that borders on frightening and fascinating. His 1999 self-published book The Kids Are Alright documents a moment in the New Jersey-born photographer’s life where hedonism trumped the next-day hangover. Featuring nudity, graffiti and an unlucky trouser stain, the visionary photographer made each book by hand and gave them out to the people he most respected at his solo exhibition at the Whitney. Since his breakout, McGinley has swapped ad-hoc images for staged shoots, and shot advertisements for brands like Levi’s, yet always remains true to the aesthetic that gained him his initial notoriety.

McGinley currently has a show on at Kunsthal KAdE, running until August 30

DANIELLE LEVITT

Photographer and filmmaker Danielle Levitt took an unflinching approach to capturing youth for her 2008 monograph We Are Experienced. With no teen clique left unturned, Levitt captured the prom dates, cheerleaders, jock and geeks of America in a glossy tome that’s turned into a must-see documentation of the American teen dream today.

COLLIER SCHORR

For almost three decades, Collier Schorr has been blending elements of fantasy, nature and youth. While her oeuvre includes campaigns shot for brands like Comme des Garçons, Jil Sander and Versus Versace, as well as editorials for Dazed, it’s her personal work that cuts deepest – like her scrapbook-esque publication Jens. F, where she photographed boys in the many positions that visual artist Andrew Wyeth painted his own models in.

BRUCE DAVIDSON

In 1959, photographer Bruce Davidson found himself enthralled by a Brooklyn gang called the Jokers. Initially making contact through a social worker, Davidson soon found himself side-by-side with the crew, experiencing its members’ personal emotions and experiences. “In time they allowed me to witness their fear, depression and anger,” he wrote in the afterword of his book Brooklyn Gang. “I soon realised that I, too, was feeling their pain. In staying close to them, I uncovered my own feelings of failure, frustration and rage.”

SANDY KIM

California-born photographer Sandy Kim turns the lens on herself and her friends in a practice that shows just how liberating yet gross and awkward youth can be. “She’s the real deal,” fellow photographer Ryan McGinley told Dazed back in 2011. “Sandy is a confessional photographer with a thing for body fluids, especially those of her boyfriend Colby’s – a photo of cum on her chest just after having sex, a grisly scene of post-period sex and a blood-covered penis. Sometimes it’s hardcore like that and sometimes it’s pure beauty.” By using the camera as diary, Kim shuns the picture-perfect teen dream for something much more real – blood and bruises included.

TOM WOOD

Shooting the streets of Liverpool and Merseyside for over four decades, Tom Wood’s photography has produced an intensely and insanely rich documentation of northern England’s working-class life. Taking photographs every single day, Wood frequented clubs, pubs, homes, football grounds, parks and the streets to capture a fascinating and colourful snapshot of life up north.

JAMIE HAWKESWORTH

Focusing on UK youth culture, Jamie Hawkesworth has shot everyone from the kids at the almost-demolished-but-now-saved Preston Bus Station – dubbed a British ‘national treasure’ – to people sleeping in dormitory halls and numerous editorials for Dazed, including London’s young creatives as they debated the future of the capital ahead of the 2012 Olympics. When he’s not shooting high-fashion advertisements for brands like J.W.Anderson and Miu Miu, Hawkesworth is lifting the lid on the less-appreciated sides of the UK that we all knew, loved, and forgot about.

NIALL O’BRIEN

Dublin-born Niall O’Brien grew up taking photos of his mates skateboarding, before turning into a professional photographer for skate magazines. “I was actually quite successful,” he told us in 2010, admitting that his priorities have shifted from ‘commercially-minded’ work into something that is more of his own. From there, he exhibited work in Good Rats – which came about after a collaboration titled Superheroes with fellow Dazed favourite Matt Lambert – where he documented a group of south west London punks over the course four years. “For the first two years they didn’t accept me that much,” O’Brien told us. “They thought I was a paedo for ages, it was only when they met my girlfriend – and found out she plays in a band – that they started to trust me!”

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