Isabel Magowan’s series Cygnets is a magnificent portrayal of youth in all its forms. It’s the baby swans’ temperament that inspired Isabel, with their graceful and delicate appearance often undercut by their fierce tendencies. “All the individuals in my images are young, their perspective and attitude towards life only just forming,” New York-based Isabel explains. “There is a period where innocence is chipped away as one becomes self-aware, increasingly meeting societal expectations and ideas.”
In this series Isabel presents the viewer with mundane teenage experiences; using a car window to put on mascara, lying with friends on a huge sofa and getting ready for a family event. Despite their normality though, Isabel’s theatrical, almost dreamy aesthetic adds this layer of drama to the images, with an unexplainable eeriness.
Isabel has cleverly laced together the familiar with the unfamiliar by choosing locations and clothing that are a mixture of already owned, found and borrowed. The real magic though is between the characters in the images. All the subjects featured have some connection to each other, whether that’s familial, platonic or romantic and it’s allowed for unexpected, fascinating moments. “Despite the clothing and the atmospherics, the images themselves are fairly candid. There is a very human aspect about the [series] because they feel like the result of so many moving pieces not in my control,” Isabel explains.
The uneasiness is intriguing and in some images the struggle between childhood and adulthood is palpable, as they wrestle with what they’ve known and what they’re becoming aware of. Themes of success, beauty, vanity and desire are all present in Isabel’s series and it’s how these big ideas affect young minds that really interests her. Heavily informed by her experiences as a professional ballerina until the age of 17, it’s interesting how this sense of performance has filtered down into her photographic work. “The idea of expectations is important in my work, especially the consequences of becoming increasingly aware of what is expected of you, what you are supposed to do.” Whether this expectation is real or perceived, it’s something Isabel feels everyone experiences at some point and it’s why this series resonates so beautifully.