This November the Lycée Français de New York had the pleasure to welcome celebrated photographer Martine Fougeron to our Secondary school for the LFNY Artist-in-Residence program. Martine was the ideal candidate based on her impressive photography portfolio, her teaching experience at the renowned International Center of Photography and the relevance of her own thematic work on the topic of adolescence.
During the week of November 11th, Martine met with our eighth graders and shared her experiences as a photographer, both in the field and studio. Together she and our students collaborated on a student-driven photo series that explored themes of identity, culminating in a final interactive presentation and parent reception.
Cloud of mystery
Over the week hundreds and hundreds of photos were uploaded, edited, discussed and curated – a remarkable feat in such a condensed week – and the results were impressive. Many were amazed by the complexity and sensitivity that our students were able to bring to their photography – some of whom bravely revealed profoundly personal stories.
An 8th grade student is going through his photos in the school’s computer lab.
Martine’s long experience of photographing teenagers helped inform the design of her residency. As she explained, (and many adults can probably attest to) the interior landscape of adolescence is shrouded in a cloud of mystery. Today’s young people lead extraordinarily complex lives often invisible to adults and the outside world. These hidden narratives fascinate Martine.
In a recent photo series, Martine plays a sort of anthropologist, “going native” and spending long hours developing rapport and trust. Her teenaged subjects are framed naturalistically, free from adult intervention or judgement. While at times challenging, Martine’s photographs powerfully reveal a candid side to teenagers that few adults see, or seek to understand. This work became a starting point for her residency design.
The students work is exhibited in the gallery of the school.
Martine began by identifying ways in which young people created unprompted images of themselves. Today’s teenagers live is a visual cacophony, magnified by social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. In this image-driven landscape, teenagers are continually constructing and editing versions of themselves, perhaps most representatively through the “selfie”, the self-indulgent, clichéd photo-genre that clutters the internet.
The modern tribe
Through the language of the “selfie”, Martine challenged our students to relook at these images, to identify hidden narratives, and to help recontextualize their photos as artworks, self portraits in fact, with genuine meaning and value. Later in the week Martine asked students to identify the key groups to which they claimed membership, and our students discovered many.
Some identified themselves through a love of comics, or reading, or soccer or skateboarding – each with their own vocabularies, fashions and rituals. These groups, Martine suggests, make up the “tribes” that teenagers live within, an ever-shifting mélange of allegiances and affiliations. By identifying their “tribes”, students gain a powerful cipher to explore their own identities.
Students presented a video of their work on I & the Tribe in the auditorium at the end of the week-long residency.
Finally, Martine and our students gathered photographs to document these “tribes”. At times students’ interests overlapped, creating large and diverse groups, and at other moments students were encouraged to stand alone, revealing a “tribe” unique to him or her that few were aware of. These beautiful and revealing photographs gave our students a vital window into their identities, and in sharing them, a new medium to express to the world who they are and who they are becoming.
Please be sure to stop by and see our 8th graders’ efforts, on display in the Mezzanine level at the Lycée through the month of November. You can follow Martine on social media.