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Guest book review by Suzanne Révy
I recently discovered the work of Olivia Bee when I saw her monograph at a local independent book seller. She was, apparently, very well known to Flikr users when she landed a commercial gig with Converse at the tender age of fifteen. Now twenty-two, Aperture has published Kids in Love, and Bee writes, “The images inside this book were created during those moments one only experiences at fifteen, sixteen, seventeen— moments that feel like forever.”
A purple, red and orange palette opens the book with impressionistic images made at dusk of trees and clouds, or young girls whose bonds of friendship are manifest by a braid of hair, sparklers and faces peering from behind the flowers of a double exposure. They are poignant, spontaneous and full of longing or yearning, but for what?
Bee allows the reader to fill that in. The book is organized into two sections, “Enveloped in a Dream” explores intimate interior physical and psychological spaces of her younger life, and the second section “Kids in Love” embraces a broader world of people and places as she attempts adulthood. One particularly striking image, “Paris at Sunrise (Poppy)” shows the slightly illicit and dangerous exploit of a group of teens walking alongside railroad tracks, but with a glance toward the camera, a young girl holding a flower makes an emotional connection to the photographer— and the viewer. I remember being that girl. Prodigies in photography are unusual, but in documenting her own life so passionately, Bee has given us a rare autobiographical view of the emotionally charged life of teens.
Next to Bee’s book on the shelf of the bookstore was Rania Matar’s recently published L’enfant Femme; I was struck by their visual similarities, and it got me thinking about their contrasting points of view. Matar has been making portraits of women and girls in New England, Europe and Lebanon for several years. This most recent book is a series of portraits of young girls between the ages of about eight and thirteen. An awkward moment for all of us.
Where Bee’s pictures are impulsive and unplanned, Matar’s are carefully constructed and posed. She brings a knowing maternal and adult sensibility to the pictures. In many, her sitters seem to be trying on their future adult selves in the process of having a portrait made, but there’s an uneasiness in many of their gestures. Matar portrays a fleeting childhood grace during that gawky time when feet and hands seem too large for their small lithe bodies.
With a more subdued palette than Bee, Matar brings forward many conflicting and contradictory emotions in her sitters… some appear defiant, shy or unsure, several look hopeful, and all seem to appreciate being seen. The self-confidence that will soon hibernate during the teen years flickers before our eyes. Matar captures this tenuous time with a poignancy that is laced with the affectionate maturity of a mother. In contrast, Bee races with abandon through the raging fires of her adolescence. Both women offer a beautiful bookend to the tumultuous teens.
Seeing these books together prompts me to reflect on the arc of my life: those profoundly passionate friendships and early loves of my youth, and my own maternal enchantment at watching the teens in my life struggle, flourish and grow into their adulthoods.
Suzanne Révy is a Boston-based fine art photographer whose work is represented by Panopticon Gallery. She writes the blog, A Grain of Sand. To learn more about Suzanne’s work, go to: http://www.suzannerevy.com/ OR http://www.panopticongallery.com/artist/suzanne_revy/#Suzanne_Revy_40.jpg
Kids in Love
by Olivia Bee
Interview by Tavi Gevinson
Published by Aperture, 2016
by Rania Matar
Introduction by Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan
Essay by Lois Lowry
Afterword by Kristen Gresh
Published by Damiani, 2015
Selections from Matar’s work will be on view at the Tufts University Art Gallery in Mortal Things: Portraits Look Back and Forth from September 14th through December 4th, 2016.
Olivia Bee, Untitled (Ponytail), 2010 (Detail)
from Olivia Bee: Kids in Love (Aperture, 2016)
© Olivia Bolles