For most of us, having our teenage years photographically documented would be unpleasant. Having them documented by our mother would be a nightmare. That is precisely the reality faced by the teenage sons of Martine Fougeron. For her long-term series, Teen Tribe, the French photographer documented her two sons through all the triumphs and pitfalls of their formative adolescent years. By developing certain practices over time, the photographer succeeded in capturing the impossible: unguarded moments in her sons’ adolescence, which generally occur outside the prying eyes of parents. This September, the project could be viewed in its entirety for the first time at Gallery at Hermès and in an accompanying book, published by Steidl.
Though her children were the primary subjects, Fougerson wasn’t interested in the specifics of their lives in particular. Instead she was looking to draw a larger picture of the experiences shared amongst all youth. “I was after the ‘eternal adolescent,’” the artist explains. “I was interested in creating portraits of the ‘normal’ search for identity and independence during those transient teen years.” Raw and unguarded, the images depict the drudgery of studying for SATs and even those early, clunky interactions with the opposite sex. Many of these natural moments took place in the photographer’s West Village apartment or on a blissful vacation in the South of France; settings where her children felt most natural.
Considering that another typical teenage experience is the periodic, irrational distaste for everything one’s parents says and does, the project presented its challenges. “It was very difficult with my elder son when I started as he was in full revolt against me,” Fougerson admits. “I am a divorced mother trying to raise her sons as best I could and this added intensity to the artistic and personal struggle.” The photographer mitigated this issue by limiting her sessions to 20 minutes, offering her sons the power of veto and promising full confidentiality when it came to the actions of their friends, namely, not ratting them out to their parents.
Ultimately the experience of creating Teen Tribe with her sons was as rewarding to Fougeron as the powerful resulting images. “It has allowed me not only to be an actor in their lives, but an observer as a mother and photographer.” She says. “Our bond, now that they are in college, is much stronger than if I had not done the project.” And if she misses their presence, she can always turn to her photographs.