THE AMERICAN TEENAGER PROJECT an Art-to-Action Program
THE ART It’s Complicated: The American Teenager is a collection of portraits and interviews with largest generation of adolescents since the baby boomers, discovered in full truth by award-winning documentary photographer Robin Bowman, through the lens of her old format Polaroid camera and an analogue recorder. Robin traveled 21,731 miles between 2001 and 2005 through most regions of the United States, taking pictures of and interviewing 419 teenagers from diverse social and economic groups. The subjects range from the grandchildren of a U.S. president to teenage gang members in New York City; from prodigal teens born to talent to unwed mothers living on public assistance; from Miss Teenage America to a teen preacher in West Virginia. The ethnic, religious and cultural diversity that emerges is breathtaking and challenge us to see the public personae of young people in new ways, as the delicate truths that make us all human begin to emerge. There is no shortage of absent parents, irrelevant schools, drugs both legal and illicit, violence, and early sexual experiences. But the collection of images and personal stories is not despairing. Rather, it finds hope in the strength and courage displayed by these remarkable young people as they struggle to define themselves in an all too hostile world.
THE ACTION The American Teenager Project is an educational program co-founded by Robin Bowman and veteran educator and diversity leader Julia Hollinger that reaches young people through school-based courses, after-school programs, and community organizations. Facilitators use It’s Complicated: The American Teenager as the foundational text to explore with young people the complex, controversial, and deeply human issues that they navigate on a daily basis and which mirror the challenges we face in society at large. We teach young people to use the camera and the recorder to have intimate and truthful face-to-face conversations with each other about their experiences, their ideas, and their future dreams. We give young people access to cameras and train them to document their own community through authentic portraiture and personal storytelling. We model for young people how to share these stories with each other and the public in a manner that promotes community building and action on the issues that matter most.
THE IMPACT Our programs create a space that “Unlocks-the-Talk” among people, across difference, about a wide range of personal and societal issues. The workshops cultivate enduring community among youth from different backgrounds that serves as a significant bolster against the bullying, anxiety, isolation, and stress facing so many young people in schools and families today. The true impact is felt in the profound change within each participant as they recognize the shared humanity among them, that everyone has “a story”, and that they are not “the only one”. These youth choose to walk differently in the future – to be open to others, stand up for each other in the face of injustice, and remind all youth in need that they are not alone.