Self-portrait is the affirmation of the self. Adolescence is the age in which the adult identity is formed. I can’t think of a better match.

I love teenagers, probably because I still feel a teenager myself. Feeling insecure of who you are, feeling awkward, vulnerable and clumsy in life, and feeling often enraged against the system. Swiss artist Urs Luthi once said “insecurity keeps you young”, which gives sense to these unpleasant feelings. Insecurity is essential for creativity, it means you are open for change, open to perceive things  in depth –from the inner or outer world- and to transform your needs into works of art.

I have had the great pleasure to teach my self-portrait method to two groups of teenagers last year at the Rudolf Steiner School in Milan. They followed my complete workshop: three months and twelve self-portrait exercises. 

My teenage students intuitively understood the profound meaning of the self-portrait and they’ve used it to say what needed to be said, without caring about what others would say or think. Their works burst with freedom, emotional intensity or reserve and the determination to affirm their existence. They have little experience in life, but they’ve worked on the most important human issues. Desire and sexuality, impossibility to express a turmoil of emotions,  existential anxiety and wanting to die, the mechanisms of relationships, exploring your inner self, affirming yourself, the expression of one’s creative identity, the plasticity of the ego.

Without any notions of photography, with their little compact cameras or mobile phones, these young girls and boys have let their gut talk. I wanted to let their creative power free from any rules and I’ve asked them to express emotions, to photograph their relationships and their vision of the world.

Each one of them has followed their own inner process. Some didn’t shoot any pictures at all for a while and suddenly produced an amazing body of work. I told them that the exercises are useful to stimulate their creative power and to follow their intuitions and ideas, even if different from the exercises I proposed. The artistic process is natural, instinctive for the human being, no matter their age, culture or technical abilities.

For each of them I wrote a text, putting into words what I read in their photographs, because I find it essential that those meanings are understood by adults. Even the words I’ve put into commas are written by me, because they would probably never say these things to the world. The texts were also directed to them. I meant to say “it is alright to say this, you are free to say what you feel, however tough it might be.” To each one I gave a symbol, a sort of mission I felt was contained in their work, so that they could have some ideal to work on and to respond to. I showed them my texts and they approved.

Their works were exhibited in the show “I AM A TEENAGER, photographic self-portraits of a generation”, at the Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan, June 2008. Lots of people attended and asked to participate to the workshop. The exhibition is available to be shown anywhere. Please contact me if you want to organize it, together with a workshop for teenagers in your area.

In this blog I will post their works and the text I wrote for each of them.