Robin Bowman is a photojournalist who traveled the country interviewing teenagers about their lives in the early 2000s. She took their portraits to illustrate the interviews, and later published them in a book. Bowman's portraits prove that a picture is worth many words. She skillfully captures moments and complex stories in single, black-and-white images. The project grew when Bowman began working with teens on another level, training them to conduct their own interviews and shoot portraits of their peers. The group of students currently working on the project are in Richmond where many of the portraits are on view in the bustling back hallway of the Richmond Art Center.
Students worked with a prescribed set of questions related to fears, family, identity, experiences with violence, hopes, and dreams for the future. The interviews are printed in gallery catalogues and you can also listen to them on SoundCloud while viewing the exhibition. Part of the mission of The American Teenager Project is to "challenge youth to think critically, connect with each other across difference, and become change agents for a more just and inclusive community," and the project's leaders genuinely and successfully work towards this goal. They partner with organizations like RYSE Youth Center in Richmond to work with a curriculum they developed to foster learning, discussion and creativity among teens.
It's clear that the American Teenager Project lights a fire within students; they're given the space to have their deepest desires and emotions documented, and the recognition that their stories and voices are valuable and relevant. On top of the opportunity to practice and participate in journalism, many are inspired by the chance to work in photography. As Francisco Rojas, who has several photographs in the exhibition, told
Richmond Confidential, "I just liked the whole process. I'm definitely wanting to do photography as a living."
Besides the portraits of Richmond teens, some of Bowman's original American Teenager portraits are on view, and it's an interesting juxtaposition seeing kids from a decade ago, from the East Coast and other parts of the country, alongside today's local youth. The thread that ties Bowman's own work to that of the budding photographers in Richmond is very apparent. Many of the teen photographers captured the same striking emotional uncertainty and significant personal experience on the faces of their subjects in the same way that Bowman does. There is an extraordinary amount of care, acceptance, and interest evident between photographer and subject in every portrait in the exhibition.
Explore The American Teenager Project online and see the exhibit at the Richmond Art Center through March 7, 2014. The opening reception is on February 1, 2014 at noon, followed by a participant panel and workshop at 2pm.