Y is for Youth

| May 3, 2014

Seeing Rineke Dijkstra’s photo of a Polish girl on the beach immediately reminded me of the work of a photographer from my neighborhood, Marisha Camp, who is best known for her series of portraits, like Dijkstra’s, of youthful beachgoers, but at modern day Coney Island. I could never figure out what captured me and felt so authentic yet distant and removed, foreign in these photos. Now I have a name for it: simultaneous representation of a social characterization and an aesthetic indeterminacy.

Like Dijkstra’s, Camp’s series represents “beings of the same kind: adolescents who rather fluctuate in their bodies” whose identities are in transition, including age, social status and lifestyle.

And, while Coney Island is not a former communist country, having lived in Slovakia, I can attest to the similarity in tensions, identity and culture. Of course, a majority of Coney Island residents are from these countries.

Here are some examples of her typical style:


As Ranciere concludes about Dijkstra’s, these photographs “characterize ways of being”, giving voice to those in transition with emerging and changing identities.

However, perhaps like Ranciere, I have always asked myself when looking at one of Camp’s portraits: why would this person agree or want to be photographed? Are they not aware of their awkwardness? Who is this person? Somehow I want to know her. Yet, I am aware that “she” doesn’t exist.

What are we to make of this young woman (for example)?   Why is she in her bra? What does her stomach or tattoo reveal?

How s the juxtaposition of the “parachute” relevant? her smeared eye makeup? her bleached out hair? Is she “real”? Of course she is, but of course she isn’t. She is a certainly a raw presence. What would she be like in real life?  I probably wouldn’t notice her.

Camp’s pictures capture Ranciere’s “dis-appropriate” similarity – where the image represents neither a real person nor a unique being. Rather, they portray “the ordinary being, whose identity is unimportant, and who hides her thoughts in offering up her face.”

Certainly capturing what Ranciere calls a “pensive image”, I think in some photos (as above) Camp goes beyond, capturing the grittier, more disturbing tension, that force the spectator to concern himself with less comfortable material while not yet offending him as intolerable.

Among the Coney Island series, there are several that portray young African American women, which to me seem perhaps more uncertain, raw, even verging on intolerable. There is a certain uneasiness I feel that the others do not evoke. In short, I am worried that these women may not be in transition as much as stuck, with limited options for their lives. Of course, I have no basis for this besides my own societal narratives. These images seem to me a bit closer to what Ranciere describes as intolerable images, which are

‘pronounced unsuitable for criticising reality because it pertains to the same regime of visibility is that reality, which turns displays its aspect of brilliant appearance and its other side of sordid truth, constituting a single spectacle’. 85

Camp also captures different sorts of awkward transitions and tensions of identity between group and individuals in her series on Jewish youth in Crown Heights (as far as I know she is the first to make such a project).

Finally, I wonder what Ranciere would make of this

Awkward family photos


Or this