April 2, 2014

Project: Saturday Girl

Looks like teen spirit.

There were a lot of great things about coming of age as a teenage girl in the mid-2000s (Razr phones, anyone?). Unfortunately, fashion was not one of them. Upon entering middle school, I remember a sudden, anxious need to wear Ugg boots, American Eagle jeans, Abercrombie and Fitch polos, Hollister tank tops. The goal, it seems, was to be a clone of every other girl in my class, all of whom were probably looking at everyone else and thinking the exact same thing.

It hasn’t been that long since I was a 13-year-old in an A&F graphic tee and low-rise jeans, but the tides are already changing. Today’s teenage girls seem to be eschewing the boring requisites for fitting in that I so desperately clung to, instead opting for the eclectic creativity of standing out. Casey Orr, an American photographer and senior lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom, noticed this phenomenon and started a series, called Saturday Girl, documenting the self-expression of young women through the medium of photography. Each Saturday, Orr sets up a pop-up studio in the Leeds town center, inviting passing teenage girls to stand against a pastel colored backdrop to have their photos taken. Most of the pictures are shoulders-up, emphasizing the details of the creative exploration—hair, makeup, clothing—that goes into self-expression. The resulting images are more than just a study of current fashion—they are an ethnographic study of the much-maligned teenage girl.

Most importantly, the candid nature of the project lends a sense of honest authenticity to the subject of fashion—a topic normally treated within photography as highbrow or exclusive—and a sense of legitimacy to the teenage girl, a demographic often mocked for superficiality or unintelligence. Against the stark setting of a photography studio—where the appearance of a subject is usually so controlled—the girls are deliberately untouched by makeup artists or Photoshop. They have braces and lip rings, pimples and tattoos. Dark roots show, bobbi pins poke out from frizzy buns, lipstick is smudged and mascara is clumpy. They wear matted fur coats, cross necklaces, disco pants, hijabs. Their self-presentation is in their hands alone, giving the Saturday Girls a refreshing sense of power and control usually not afforded to teenage girls.

The project just closed a month-long solo show at the Gallery Monro House in Leeds. Also included in the exhibition were images from a similar series by Orr called Saturday Night, which documents the footwear of female club-goers in Leeds (think stilletos, kitten heels and platform wedges). On Orr’s website, she writes that the personal style of the teenage girls in Saturday Girl and Saturday Night is both a statement of self-expression, and, in a paradoxical way, a marker of belonging—their distinct individualities combine to form a manifesto, a declaration of the tribe of the teenage girl, not to be messed with, not to be ignored.

Check out Saturday Girl here.

Suze Myers, a lactose-intolerant pizza enthusiast. When she grows up she wants to be a graphic designer, but for now she’s too busy being a zine girl at Barnard College in New York. Her main accomplishments in life include writing great tweets and wearing great sweaters.