In her latest project, Beth Garrabrant recreates her personal Tweenage Landscapes
Growing up in an idyllic suburb in Lake Forest, Illinois, the photographer started obsessively documenting her teenage years after the death of a friend in 2002. 17 years later, she returns to those familiar scenes as an ode to her girlhood.
- Alif Ibrahim
- 4 December 2019
When you look back at your teenage years, what do you see? Between trying to grow into our awkwardly proportioned bodies and still latching on to our childhood comforts, we go through moments that feel like the entire world to us at the time. More often than not, we tend to remember these moments in short scenes and feelings rather than complete narratives, populated by objects that trigger bittersweet memories and memorialised in photographs that you don’t remember taking.
As an ode to her own girlhood, Beth Garrabrant’s Tweenage Landscapes recreates moments from her teenage and tweenage days that now seem like a mythical past. Growing up between Norwalk, Connecticut and Lake Forest, Illinois, Beth describes the suburban bubble that she grew up in as one that was “so idyllic that John Hughes not only made his teen movies there but also lived down the street.” John Hughes, of course, wrote and directed some of the most iconic American teen movies from the 80s, including Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, each capturing the teenage angst and boredom of the era.
Tweenage Landscapes, however, is a more generous depiction of one’s teenage years, made in Beth’s usual gentle atmosphere and honest tone. The project began with her collecting lost objects from her tween years that sat in a Chicago storage unit after her parents’ move into the city from the suburbs.
“My mother and I meticulously packed up photo albums, tennis trophies, Barbie dolls and even an unopened bottle of Orbitz soda that I had saved from junior high,” Beth tells It’s Nice That, adding that some of these nostalgic objects were discarded in the move. “Within weeks, I started looking for these objects again: VHS tapes, dolls, makeup, magazines, Britney Spears tattoos, even things that I had wanted but never had, like Love’s Baby Soft Perfume,” she adds.
“In September of my senior year, I had just started an independent study in photography when a very close friend died in an accident,” Beth says. It was a friend that she spent every morning and afternoon with in the latter days of high school. “In my grief, I was fixated on the fact that I didn’t have enough pictures of our time together, this being 2002 and before social media or camera phones.” This started a habit of obsessively documenting the ensuing years as they happened. “Photography became not only a fixation but a way for me to cope with both my loss and my own mortality,” Beth says.
So, 16 years later, Beth turned back to these scenes and recreated them by casting her friends’ children, who have now become teenagers themselves. During a photo assignment in Kansas, Beth attended a homecoming football game that felt “strangely familiar in the way that the objects had been.” Some of the scenes she recreated are from memory, some from the covers of the Baby-Sitter’s Club books. “The girls I photograph stand-in for both me and the blonde teen archetype that I grew up with. I’ve recently started to photograph the objects that I’ve collected because there’s more to girlhood than pictures of young women,” she explains.
Despite the staged setting, the honesty and sensitive way that Beth captured these moments feel like they come from a very personal place. “I don’t only shoot in the Midwest, but somehow I find my hometown in every picture,” Beth says. In this double reversal of the teenage role, the youths pose as adults posing as the youth, as Beth finds herself in the teenage moments she recreates.