Books Gift Guide

Photography

Books Gift Guide

It's Complicated: The American Teenager

by Robin Bowman
Umbrage Editions, 156 pp., $40

Strange that a book titled It's Complicated, about the diversity of America's teens, features only black-and-white pictures. Then again, the Polaroid 110B that photographer and interviewer Robin Bowman uses lends a unifying thread to the varied images of the future of this country.

Traveling more than 20,000 miles and taking photographs all along the way, Bowman asks her subjects the same 26 questions. The excerpted interviews accompany stark, heavily contrasted portraits. The collection is most insightful in its juxtapositions. A little person with deformed extremities and a Miss Teen America sit on facing pages. Both complain of discrimination based on their looks. Bowman conveys a sense of isolation in both renderings: one surrounded by trophies and medals, the other on an otherwise empty couch. The cumulative effect of such pairings is a sense of perspective on a generation that evades easy stereotypes.

The far-from-comprehensive interview excerpts demand close consideration of the photos. What's not in the text can often be seen in the eyes or the stance of the subjects. For example, a pregnant 16-year-old talks about waiting for her trailer to arrive, so she and her husband can move out of her parents' house. The man with his arm around her in the photo looks 10 years her senior and like he's about to smash the camera. He gets no interview. One can only assume it's because he's not a teenager.

Most startling is just how earnest and forthcoming these teens can be. As pages turn, a feeling starts to creep up that these individuals have few outlets to talk about issues important to them and this country. Use It's Complicated as a segue to "the talk" with your teen or preteen. Whatever "talk" you might want to have, it's covered here.

Also recommended in Photography ...

Creature by Andrew Zuckerman (Chronicle Books, $60); I Was Cuba: Treasures From the Ramiro Fernandez Collection by Kevin Kwan, Peter Castro, and Ramiro Fernandez (Chronicle Books, $24.95); Changing Dreams: A Generation of Oaxaca's Woodcarvers by Vicki Ragan (photography) and Shepard Barbash (text) (Museum of New Mexico Press, $39.95); Edward Burtynsky: Quarries by Edward Burtynsky (Steidl, $80).

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