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Vokseværk, Mads Joakim Rimer Rasmussen (2022)
This photo book documents the year-long exploits of teens at one of Denmark’s popular ‘efterskoler’ residential schoolsPhotography Mads Joakim Rimer Rasmussen, courtesy of Disko Bay

Photos that capture the white-hot heat of adolescence

Photographer Mads Joakim Rimer Rasmussen spent a year documenting the exploits of teens at one of Denmark’s popular ‘efterskoler’ residential schools

Boredom, lust, embarrassment, resentment, confusion, euphoria, anger, ambivalence… everything is amplified in the febrile, white-hot heat of adolescence. As we navigate this perilous passage between childhood and adulthood, we’re unwittingly forging the neural pathways, habits and identities that we’ll likely spend the ensuing years attempting to dismantle, reprogramme and reassemble, just as we are having experiences that will galvanise and affirm us for the rest of our lives. Vokseværk (which translates as “growing pains”) is the new photo book by Mads Joakim Rimer Rasmussen (published by Disko Bay) chronicling this seminal time in the lives of a group of Danish teens. 

Every year in Denmark, over 30,000 young people apply to attend efterskoler (which literally translates as “after-school”) – a unique form of optional residential school offering 14 to 18-year-olds an alternative high school experience. “I believe that efterskolerne in Denmark are so popular because they give the youth a chance to grow into their next stage in life away from home,” Rasmussen tells Dazed in a conversation over email. “It is a chance to meet people who don’t know the ‘old’ you, as the people from your hometown do.” 

Not only does the experience provide young people with the opportunity to reinvent themselves away from the scrutiny of their family and people who persist in thinking of them as children, but it’s also a place to test yourself and form new bonds. Rasmussen continues: “It’s a way to push your boundaries. Many of the students can be a bit shy in the beginning, and some might be quite nervous about the whole thing… but as the surroundings are based on community and interactions, the students will learn new things about themselves. Many will gain new strong friendships and discover new sides of themselves.”

In his experience, Rasmussen feels that Denmark is a particularly nurturing environment for teenagers, who are given “the luxury to explore themselves with less worries than elsewhere.” He explains: “In Denmark, we have a very good welfare system, we don’t necessarily need to rush into jobs or education as much as some other places. That gives people the freedom and opportunity to explore themselves even more before thinking about a career, and that is exactly what the efterskole are also striving to do – make the students excited about life and thereby make them excited about education.”

Shot during the academic year of 2019 to 2020, predominantly on location at Fjordvang Efterskole, near the coast of western Jutland, Rasmussen depicts intimate moments as well as communal joy, grief, and solidarity. From arm wrestling contests to wild swimming, conspiratorial chats, burgeoning friendships, private jokes, and quiet contemplation, Vokseværk captures the rich range of adolescent rites of passage. 

Of all Rasmussen’s efterskoler photographs gathered together in the book, there are one or two images which, for him, most encapsulate the experience of growing pains. “I think the cover photo [above] is very much packed with energy which resembles the impact on the teenage mind to suddenly be with a lot of people your own age, without your parents nearby.” He also picks out a portrait of a boy displaying his neck covered with “hickeys” – the ultimate teenage status symbol. “The photo was taken after the first weekend of the school year. Even though it’s prohibited to have sex in the school, it is well known that sexual exploration goes on.”

Together, Rasmussen’s images tell multiple stories of friendship, first love, and experimentation unfurling over an unforgettable year in the lives of a group of young people. Take a look at the gallery above for a closer look. 

Vokseværk by Mads Joakim Rimer Rasmussen is published by Disko Bay and is available now.

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