Photographers Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo’s ‘Quaranteeen’ captures France’s digital communities and asks what socialising means in the time of coronavirus
This year, photographers Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo intended to document French teenagers during their last year of high school – that crucial and pivotal moment on the transition from adolescence to adulthood. But, like so many 2020 plans, their scheme was made impossible by the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic.
The duo, whose work often explores the defining moments of youth and coming-of-age, decided to evolve their idea by using Zoom and Facetime to capture their quarantined subjects. In the process of responding to these unforeseen changes of circumstance, they created Quaranteeen – a project that also reflects the adaptability of the generation they're representing. “During the whole process, we've realised how fast and easily the young generation is adapting itself to this ‘new life’,” the photographers tell Dazed.
Rather than depicting the isolation of quarantine, Antón and Clavijo wanted to show the enduring optimism of the digital community they encountered, and the sense of shared experience that characterised the teenagers’ experience of lockdown. “With this project, we want to spread a positive message about young generations and show that teen spirit never dies, even during a pandemic,” they explain.
We chat to them Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo about Quaranteeen, teenage resilience, and socialising in the time of Coronavirus.
Tell us about the project and how it got started?
Chus Antón & Grégory Clavijo: At the beginning of March, Chus and I had planned to document a group of French teenagers during the last year of high school as they are the last generation taking the ‘baccalauréat’ exam – the equivalent to A-levels in the UK, which will be changed by a new reform in 2021. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, we couldn't make it.
How did you find the people involved and what did you learn from them?
Chus Antón & Grégory Clavijo: We decided to meet on Facetime and Zoom with some of the pupils because we still wanted to get to know them and take pictures of them. These moments shared together were a good way for everybody to keep being creative. That's when we came up with the idea to document this weird time we are all going through and put together all the images in a digital piece. We started casting more teenagers from all around the world – the USA, Canada, Japan, UK, France, and Spain – using Instagram. Some of the teenagers also helped us to spread the word. Everybody was really motivated to join us for that.
We didn't want to focus the project on ‘isolation’. On the contrary, we used Quaranteeen to create, connect, and make everybody feel part of a ‘community’, even if just digitally. During the whole process, we've realised how fast and easily the young generation is adapting itself to this ‘new life’. They keep socialising with the Internet: chatting using social media, studying with learning platforms, sharing tips, and playing video games. It's good to see they keep a positive attitude, even during uncertain times. We learned from them that teen spirit never dies, even during a pandemic.
Why did you originally want to document the students in their last year? What was behind that idea?
Chus Antón & Grégory Clavijo: We originally wanted to document French students in their last high school year because they are the last generation to take ‘baccalauréat’ exam and it really represents the end of teenagehood – coming of age and the transition to adulthood. Because of the coronavirus, we couldn't make it. That was the starting point of Quaranteeen. And that's when we came up with the idea to document not only some French teenagers in their last year during the lockdown but also young people from different countries, as this whole generation was coping with the quarantine at the same time, something never experienced before. Quaranteeen questions how young people are dealing with the lockdown, how the young generation is affected by it, to what extent their lives and social interactions have changed, how social distancing is affecting them, and how they feel about it.
How were these shoots different to shooting normally? As in, how did you direct, plan, etc.? And what did you capture the images on?
Chus Antón & Grégory Clavijo: We think the ‘essence’ of documenting teenagehood remains the same, it's just the means to do it that have changed. We wanted our shooting approach to be as close as possible to ‘normal’ shooting. We used Instagram to cast people, as we often do. Everybody was really committed to the project and helped us to spread the word. We started chatting with the teenagers to get to know them and explained to them the project. They were really motivated and we felt it was also important for them to document what we were experiencing from our/their point of view. There was important directing work – we helped the subjects to find a good frame, a good light, it was somehow more ‘tricky’ than usual. We can say that the subjects were more involved and participative in the shooting, all technical aspects – light, frame, acting – relied a bit more on them because of the distance. We didn't want to do screenshots, we used the same material we would normally use – cameras and camcorders. We also resorted a bit more than usual to ‘postproduction’ and photoshop to achieve our aesthetic.
“With this project, we want to spread a positive message about young generations and show that teen spirit never dies, even during a pandemic” – Chus Antón & Grégory Clavijo
What story do you think it tells?
Chus Antón & Grégory Clavijo: We used Quaranteeen to connect with young people and make them feel part of a community, even if just digitally. It was a good way to keep being creative. With this project, we want to spread a positive message about young generations and show that teen spirit never dies, even during a pandemic. It also reflects the up and downs we all experienced during the lockdown. All the young people in this project showed us that they are highly adaptable to new or different environments. At a young age, Generation Z already faced and overcame many changes and environmental, political, educational, and financial crisis. It seems like they got used to that instability and uncertainty at some point. They even raise their voice and claim for big changes. It was interesting to see how during this pandemic, they were capable to use social media as political ‘weapons’, like Tiktokers and K-Pop fans pranking Trump and sabotaging his meeting in Oklahoma or the mobilisation during Black Lives Matter movements. We had the feeling they dealt a bit better with the Covid19 crisis than other generations and didn’t lose their positivity and strength during these uncertain times.