TEENAGERS IN THEIR BEDROOMS
An interview with photographer Adrienne Salinger, who revealed the never-before-seen series that predated her seminal 'Teenagers in their Bedroom' by nearly a decade.
It was 1984, and I was in my early 20s. I went up to strangers in malls and on the streets, or in women’s restrooms – wherever teenagers tend to congregate. I would meet one person at a time and ask if I could come home with them and photograph them. Even when I was doing it, it was strange. I photographed maybe 60 people, up and down the west coast. I spent all day with them, bringing large equipment into rooms that were 12 feet by 12 feet. And listening to their stories.
I was trying hard to address the way that people define themselves, to somehow allow coming of age to be scrutinised in a way that defied cliche. Before then, I felt strongly that the only images that existed of teenagers were from an adult’s perspective, and the power differential bothered me. As viewers, we look at a picture and immediately reduce it to a one-liner as fast as we can. Our own shit comes up instantly. But I realised the teenagers had a clarity on their points of view that hadn’t yet been damaged by compromise.
When you’re a teenager, you’re trying on identities continually. But you change so quickly that the things you have are all contradictions of themselves. Later, when we’re adults, we spend a lot of time trying to carve a consistent, coherent identity. We somehow get the impression that being an adult means everything lines up, right? But really, the only thing that makes us interesting at all is the way that doesn’t happen. Adults hide a lot of shit in the closet. But a teenager only has that 12 by 12 feet. Everything has to fit in there: the past and the future. Everybody’s got their stuffed animals, even when I was photographing teens smoking weed and talking about drugs and sex.
Now teenagers come of age at a time when they not only have to define themselves within their space – with the ephemera on their walls – but also with their constructed online identities. In the early days of the internet, my colleague built a computer and I somehow found these online fetish groups. I immediately thought, ‘The world is going to change in all of the things I’m curious about – there will be no fetishes or strange desires. Nobody will ever be alone again.’ But the teenagers themselves are at the same place they always were. I still go into their bedrooms pretty often. I can’t help it! – Adrienne Salinger
Taken from the autumn/winter 2015 issue of Dazed, with previously unpublished photos from Adrienne Salinger.