Meet Some of the Original Teenagers

During eight separate trips over five years Robin met some amazing young people. Her stories of how she would meet and quickly earn the trust of such a diverse set of people is part of the narrative that inspires The American Teenager Project.

Some of these stories are here. For a richer media experience (flash required) visit the It’s Complicated website for the entire collection and/or buy Robin’s book.

Patrick Roberts was a special kid. I pulled into Lawrence, Kansas and for some reason I couldn’t find a single young person willing to participate. I finally got a tip from a girl at the ice cream parlor about her ex-boyfriend. After waiting for him for two hours, losing hope that he would show up, up waltzed Patrick – a current James Dean – a one-off, an old soul. Beyond the interview we carried on our conversation for hours and I felt connected to a peer. Besides, I got the shot that became the signature shot of the collection.

“The easiest thing about being a teenager is still having a sort of romantic perspective or outlook on the world: not being jaded or disillusioned; and knowing–hoping–that you have time to do what you want to and to achieve what you want.” Listen to an excerpt from Patrick’s interview
 

I met Hasnija Abdul Mouman right after 911 at a Mosque in New York. I was photographing her for another project on the Muslim community and how they were being treated after 911. By the time I got around to taking her photo for the Teenager project, she had been married and disowned by her family who didn’t approve. What was so interesting to me was that she married him not out of love, but because she felt he would guarantee a better place in Heaven. Sadly to me, her husband took her back to Syria and I have been unable to reach her since.

My biggest fear is God. Definitely. I have no fear of men, no fear of animal. When I was younger, I used ot ask my dad, “Daddy what are you scared of?” And he’s like, “God.” And I’m like, “What about a big shark that comes and eats your head?” He’s like “No, honey, God.” Listen to an excerpt from Hasnaji’s interview

I’d lived in a building in Brooklyn where most of the tenants were Hasidic and the photo industry is filled with Hasidim, but I was unable to find a Hasidic family willing to have their picture taken. In Chicago I got permission to some students at the Lubavitch Mesivta . Of all the young people I spoke with these boys remained the most connected to a world outside of mainstream America and disengaged from traditional teenage pursuits. And yet, the dream of becoming a baseball player still made it into Menachem Moskovitz’s (seen in middle here) consciousness. Astonishing to me was that Menachem remained in touch with me long after our conversation. You never know what your               connection is.

If I could be someone else I’d be the prime Minister of Israel. Of course, in my fantasies, I dream of some day becoming the world’s greatest baseball player. Listen to an excerpt from Menachem’s interview

I met Jason Kramer through some street kids I met in Rockland, Maine. He was this smart, capable kid with tons of opportunities, but drugs had destroyed this path. He told me he had a baby so I took him to see his child. This photograph is the first time he had ever held his son. I look at this picture and can’t help but see a child holding a child.

What’s not to say about drugs? They suck, they’re stupid and they’ll screw up everything. Drugs will ruin your life. I did them and I liked them and I got into ‘em really heavy. And then I just started makin’ poor choices. I had everything goin’ for me. I was on the right track; my family was so proud of me. I went to a private military academy in New York and after three years of almost makin’ it I dropped out in my final year. Started runnin’ away from home every other day and just bad stuff, stealin’ money, doin’ whatever I could to get wrecked, basically. Me and Mom got along until a certain point. Once I started screwing’ up though, my mom got so disappointed in my choices that she couldn’t bear to look at me anymore. Listen to an excerpt from Jason’s interview
 

Courtney Paslick struck me immediately as remarkably beautiful. I call her “my Mona Lisa” because she is so composed. There was this sadness about her which is clearly expressed in her words, and yet a defiance, a will to not engage in the potential obstacles of her circumstances. I remember ringing the doorbell at this perfect looking house on a perfect street that could have belonged to anybody. What I found inside is a young girl who doesn’t meet society’s idea of what perfection looks like, but is finding a way to live with dignity in this world.

Being around my friends makes me the happiest. We hang around at school a lot. And we go to each other’s houses and malls and stuff. Just like regular teenagers. I would still like to know what it feels like to be average-sized; to have a boyfriend…But I like everything about me. I wouldn’t change anything. Listen to an excerpt from Courtney’s interview
 

I met Roxy Trevino through a teacher I had contacted. She was living with Love Kye’s family and I remember the house feeling very unsafe to me because there were so many people coming and going. Roxy told me story after story of a life of abuse and turmoil – almost flat in her delivery of this. This was one of the first interviews I did and I hadn’t yet learned to curb my emotions. I sobbed through both interviews, struggling to navigate the conversation.  These girls remain close to me today. I learned so many things that day, but most importantly, these conversations forced me to recognize the complexity of so many young people’s situations.

Roxy’s not my first girlfriend, but she’s my first love. My mother don’t talk about me being gay, but Roxy lives with me and my mom, but my mom never asked me and I never told her but I know she knows. My sister told me she said, “Your daughter’s gay, ” and she said “No, she’s not, she’s just going through a phase right now.” 
  Listen to an excerpt from Roxy’s interview      Listen to an excerpt from Love’s interview