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Karen Marshall, “Jen, Blake, and Rachel” (1985/86)
Karen Marshall, “Jen, Blake, and Rachel” (1985/86), Between Girls (2021)Photography Karen Marshall

Road trips and raging hormones: These photos are an ode to teenage rebels

From Karen Marshall’s portraits of Manhattan latchkey kids to Benyamin Reich’s depictions of burgeoning sexuality, these photos capture the beautiful, boisterous, and banal interlude between childhood and adulthood

Caught between the lure of childhood and the inexorable pull of adulthood, being a teenager is a potentially perilous time. Friendships burn with a new intensity as your identity recalibrates amid wild hormonal impulses, and heady new freedoms are often undercut by external pressures from your peers and your community. 

We’ve gathered some of the best photography projects depicting the angst, boredom, and exhilaration of this formative time. From basketball courts in Brooklyn to riotous nights out in Basildon, these photographs capture fleeting moments in these once-in-a-lifetime liminal years of teendom. 

What She Said by Deanna Templeton

Taken over a period of several decades, Deanna Templeton’s photobook What She Said (published by MACK) collects together her images of young women in the throes of adolescence. Drawn to girls who identify with the counter-culture, Templeton’s street portraits document the intensity of female teendom lived outside of the mainstream.

Alongside these tender portraits, Templeton includes facsimiles of her own highly relatable teenage diary. “Loves death punk, punk, acid rock, psychedelic, classical, rock and roll, and dance music,” she writes, introducing her 16-year-old self in bubble handwriting on the pink pages of her ring-bound journal. “Wanna die when I’m 18. Wish I was never born.”

The title of the book is taken from The Smiths’ track of the same name. Templeton’s images share the song’s frustrations and passions, so often heightened to unbearable levels of intensity during this perilous time when life is pain and your band t-shirt is a solemn statement of intent. 

Siggie by Lisbet Nielsen

Danish fine art photographer Lisbet Nielsen took polaroids of her daughter Siggie throughout the 1990s. Living together in various apartments in Aarhus, the photographs capture Siggie against a background of revolving seasons and changing interiors. New posters on her walls signal new phases and shifts as she gradually leaves her childhood behind, eventually becoming pregnant with a child of her own. 

“Interiors, the girl, and the views become a story about existence in time and the changes created by time,” writes poet and translator Malene Engelund in the book’s haunting epilogue. “All the while a mug remains red and steaming, and an easter table, dressed in yellow hope, awaits its guests.” 

Siggie (published by Diskobay Books) is an evocative tribute to the beautiful details of everyday life, the bond between mothers and daughters, the passing of time, and the unbearably poignant sadness and joy that growing up inevitably entails. 

Growing up gay in a strict, ultra-Orthodox Israeli city by Benyamin Reich

Growing up gay in a religion that forbids homosexuality means that your desire – and so much of your very identity – is condemned by your community. Born into a rabbinical family in the most ultra-Orthodox city in Israel, Benyamin Reich always knew he didn’t fit in. “Bnei Brak is a black and white city meaning the world is in black and white: men wear white shirts on top, black pants on the bottom, and that’s all you see. There was not a lot of colour in my childhood,” he told Dazed back in 2017. “As a kid with an artistic, aesthetic point of view, it felt wrong, like something was missing. From my childhood onwards, it (was) all about bringing aesthetic back to my life.”

Resisting the expectations placed upon him to enter an arranged marriage and become the patriarchal provider for a vast family of future children, Reich left his home and community in Isreal to study photography in Berlin. In photography, he found a way to reconcile his culture and religion with his sexuality. 

His work explores coming-of-age masculinity and the homo-erotic roots of Judaism, manifest in traditional practices and male companionship. “My imagery is trying to make terms with Jewish forbidden law. It brings these two worlds together,” he told Dazed. “I don’t reject traditional Judaism; I just add visions of homoeroticisms that exist in a secret way to create a new and needed language. I pronounce it visually so that way these scenes become reality and can be seen.” 

Between Girls by Karen Marshall 

In 1985, photographer Karen Marshall’s attention was caught by a “bright, exuberant 16-year-old high school junior” named Molly Brover. Intrigued by Brover and her burgeoning life on the cusp of adulthood, Marshall approached her and asked if she could take some pictures of her and her friends. The teen agreed, enthusiastic to initiate the photographer into her “Upper West Side girl world”. 

Unbeknownst to Marshall, hanging out and documenting the intense friendships of these New York latchkey kids would evolve into a project encompassing many decades and span adolescence, adulthood, birth, and death. 

30 years after first meeting her muse Molly Brover, Marshall was still taking pictures of Brover’s friends – many of whom were by this point themselves mothers whose own children had transcended teenagehood. But the tragedy at the heart of Between Girls is that Brover herself never made it to adulthood, dying in a tragic car accident just 10 months after first meeting Marshall. “I resolved to keep the project going,” the photographer told Dazed earlier this year. “I knew that Molly would remain 17, while the rest of them would become women, and that break in continuity among the girls inspired me to continue to document them in various ways over the years to come.”

Conrad McRae Youth League Tournament by Ari Marcopoulos 

Whilst working at his desk in his Brooklyn apartment, photographer Ari Marcopoulos was distracted by the sound of someone shooting hoops in the rain at the nearby basketball court. Putting his work to one side, he hurried down to the Dean Street Playground with his camera. 

This initial curiosity evolved when, in 2014, he was once again drawn to the court by the sight of teams playing before an assembled crowd. Marcopoulos learned it was the Conrad McRae Youth League Tournament – an important event in the life of the local community. Named for the late Conrad McRae – a local legend and pro-basketball player who grew up playing on these same neighbourhood basketball courts – this city-wide tournament invited promising talent from as young as six to some of the most talented high-school players to participate. 

The photographer was initiated into the world of the Dean Street playground basketball courts, documenting six years of games and competing kids, and sharing his portraits with the players themselves as they grew up and moved through the ranks. In Marcopoulos’ photos, the tournament is transformed into a metaphor for struggle and perseverance; it embodies hope and the possibility of realised dreams.

“Basketball has captured the Black imagination in a way no other sport can quite replicate,” writes Damani McNeil in the introduction of Marcopoulos’ Conrad McRae Youth League Tournament. “Sports are one of the few realms in life where Black boys are taught to embrace their creativity and envision a future they cannot yet see.”

Peas by Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo

When photographers Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo met teenager Edith Owen – an unknown model and aspiring photographer – they knew they'd met their muse. 

“We travel a lot to Japan for work and are quite obsessed with all the Japanese coming-of-age pop culture, fan movements, and especially their idols from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s,” the duo explained to Dazed last year. “During our trips, we discovered a lot of really cool and old bookshops where we found many ‘icon books’.” 

The pair became fascinated by these zine-like publications dedicated to a range of pop culture figures drawn from the most liminal edges of the margins to the heart of the mainstream. “We got mesmerised by the layout, the pictures, the idea itself of dedicating a book to a pop culture icon, band, or actor was so fascinating to us. That was the starting point of our project Peas: to make a book by reappropriating the codes of the Japanese icon books and apply them to an ordinary, non-celebrity, teenage girl.” 

Owen, who appears to synthesise a bold sartorial self-confidence with the mannerisms of a typical teen ingénue, is the perfect subject for this examination of modern teendom in London. Peas allows us a fascinating glimpse into the private world of a girl creating her own identity as she moves towards adulthood. 

Magic Party Place by CJ Clarke 

For photographer CJ Clarke, his hometown of Basildon is a perfect metaphor for aspirational working-class Britain. “The town has always historically voted for the most successful party in terms of seats in general elections and as a result, a media caricature of the town’s populous called the ‘Basildon Man’ was born,” he told Dazed back in 2016. “To win the heart and mind of the Basildon Man – and Woman – is to win elections”.

Not only does Basildon function as a barometer for media pundits to predict political outcomes, but the “the massive generational disconnect” Clarke observed in the town was also something he saw reflected across the country as a whole. “The older, pioneer generation that moved to Basildon when it was first built has a strong sense of civic pride and connection with the town, but this hasn’t trickled down to the younger generation.”

As a way of exploring his own relationship with Basildon whilst also examining the town’s social history and its community, the Essex-born photographer began what would become the decade-long project he would call Magic Party Place – a name inspired by a neon sign he saw whilst walking through the town at night. “It was completely deserted and there was this sign, lighting the street up in yellow and proclaiming life and activity when there was none,” he explained. But the title’s inescapable irony is underscored by the tenderness and compassion of the images themselves. 

Known to the locals as “Bas Vegas”, Clarke captured Basildon’s much-vaunted nightlife. ‘“This is our Friday Night Big Night Special!” he was told by one of the teens who allowed the photographer to join their party. Clarke recalled a more modest gathering: “Four boys, 18-years-old or thereabouts, are gathered in a small back garden. Sitting around a table on white plastic chairs, they drink beer, smoking and trading insults at each other.”

Magic Party Place is an ode to this model town’s working-class teenaged community. “I spent small, intense amounts of time with various groups of young people over the years, meeting them all in different ways – friends of friends, friends’ younger brothers and one particular group of lads I met through a chance meeting with one of their mums,” he told us. Some of the young people he spoke to intended to get out of the town as soon as possible, yet opportunities weren’t so available “for the ones that didn’t do so well in school”. Clarke concludes, “...because society is not really set-up to help or incorporate non-conformists”.