Nancy Grace Horton: Being 13
PRC Members’ Gallery, 832 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston
September 6- November 3, 2012
Review by Jessica Ladd, PRC Intern, Fall 2012
Adolescence is often one of the most difficult and frustrating periods that we encounter in our lives. After living carefree for most of our lives, we are suddenly thrust into a roller coaster of a world where we have to make difficult choices. It is also a time when we begin to discover who we are and the type of person we want to become. In their recent work, Rania Matar and Nancy Grace Horton have documented this metamorphic period through photography. They focus on young women who are bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood. Each of the girls featured in the photographs of this exhibit have some kind of story to tell, and it is through their portraits that we are able to visually connect with them.
One part of Rania Matar’s work, entitled A Girl and Her Room, explores the lives of numerous teenage girls from the United States and Lebanon. To make her pictures more intimate, Matar has chosen to photograph each girl in her bedroom. To a girl, a bedroom is more than just a place to sleep or get dressed. It is an expression of her personality, style, and uniqueness. It serves as her sanctuary, shelter, and haven where she can escape from the everyday pressures of teenage life. One picture that particularly expresses this idea is entitled Shannon, Boston 2010. This photograph shows the subject, 21-year-old Shannon, facing with her back towards the camera, revealing a large tattoo of a tree that peeks out from the straps of her white tank top. Her hands are at the top of her head, holding up her brown dreadlocks as she looks longingly at her reflection in the mirror. To her right is a mannequin, and to her left is a bookcase where numerous books about fashion are visible. From this photograph, I am able to learn a great deal about Shannon’s life; however, there is still some mystery about her. I find myself wanting to know more about her personality, her likes, her dislikes. What does her tattoo symbolize? Why is she so interested in fashion? Is she stereotyped because of her sense of style? Shannon’s photo, along with the many others taken by Matar, leave the viewer hanging, hungry for more. Through these images, she provides a window into the very difficult and confusing period in the life of a female when she is on the brink of adulthood, but still very much a child. I feel, in a way, that these girls represent a little bit of all of us. They come from different places with different styles, interests, hairstyles, personalities, and hobbies. Like us, they stand out in their own way. They serve as a reminder that although we may all be somewhat unique, deep down, we really aren’t that different from one another.
Rania Matar’s second body of work, L’Enfant Femme, means “the Child-Woman” in French. While A Girl and Her Room focuses mainly on older girls, L’Enfant Femme takes a look at girls who are newly entering adolescence. Unlike A Girl and Her Room, which focuses on a teenager in her private space, L’Enfant Femme focuses more on the subject instead of the space she is in. The first thing that strikes me about the young ladies in this series is how different they appear from the older girls. Some of the emotions that I felt from the girls in their rooms were that of confusion, anger, and even desperation. However, these younger girls give off a much lighter essence of tranquility and peace. They are still living in that carefree world of childhood. One could describe it as ‘the calm before the storm.’ They are living in a peaceful world, unaware of the challenges that lie ahead of them. I think that it would be an interesting experiment to go back and photograph these girls in a few years to see how they change. Will they still have an aura of innocence around them? Will they still appear as relaxed and carefree as they do now? How will adolescence affect them?
Nancy Grace Horton’s work, Being Thirteen, also explores the transition of young girls into adulthood. Unlike Matar, who has numerous subjects, Horton chooses to focus on her stepdaughter Zoe. During Zoe’s thirteenth year of life, Horton documents different moments where she observes her stepdaughter hedging between a girl and a young woman. Through Horton’s work, I am able to witness everyday events in Zoe’s life, along with developing somewhat of a connection towards her as her personality is exposed. Some of these moments captured by Horton include Zoe after a run, leading a horse, bundled up for a snow day, and even behind a shower curtain. Although seeing these photographs gives the viewer a glimpse into Zoe’s thirteenth year, the one I feel best represents the gap between childhood and adolescence is “Spirit Week.” In this picture, Zoe is crouching on a rock, wearing tights that have checkered designs in pink and orange. She sports a frilly, purple tutu and a light blue tank top. Around her neck are numerous beaded necklaces of vibrant colors, and on her head she wears a white tiara. To complete the outfit, she wears studded glasses with blue lenses. Something about this image reflects the child that is still very much alive in Zoe. Even at the tender and delicate age of thirteen, she is able to preserve some of that youthful innocence that is often lost during adolescence.
Looking at these pictures, I began to feel somewhat reminiscent. I found myself reflecting on my own adolescence, recalling the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life. Every choice that I made at the time seemed like such a big deal. What should I wear today? How do I act around friends? How am I going to tell my parents that I failed an exam? As I looked into the eyes of the young women displayed before me, I realized that I saw a lot of myself. I was able to connect with them without even knowing who they were. Part of me wishes that I could have seen these pictures when I was at that overwhelming and turbulent point in my own life. It would have been a gentle reminder that I am not alone, and that millions of other girls share my feelings in this crazy and confusing process of growing up. If there were one thing that I could say to these young women, it would be to stay true to themselves. Do not let the opinions of others keep you from doing what you feel is right.