Photographing the Fluid Space Between Teenage Years and Adulthood

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Alessandra Sanguinetti, from The Adventures of Guille and
Alessandra Sanguinetti, from The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and The Illusion of an Everlasting Summer (MACK, 2020)Courtesy the artist and MACK

In Alessandra Sanguinetti’s new book, the photographer presents a study of cousins Guille and Belinda, two girls she has been photographing for 20 years

For the past 20 years, Alessandra Sanguinetti has photographed cousins Guille and Belinda, attracted by their different physiques and evident affection for each other. She met the pair in 1999, while shooting a project on their grandmother’s farm in rural Argentina, and the two girls (then nine years old) were always around, getting into the frame, forcing Sanguinetti to shoo them away. One day, though, she asked them to stay and play. The pictures of Guille and Belinda accumulated until Sanguinetti realised there was a project there.

In 2003, Sanguinetti published The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and The Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams, which chronicles the girls’ relationship over five years as they move from childhood to teenagehood. Rather than taking a traditional, documentary approach to the project, Sanguinetti focused on the girls’ dreams, capturing the melting of imagination and the everyday that happens during child’s play. She was far from a passive observer, however, as she often proposed scenes referencing art history or literature, which the girls adapted and made their own. Childhood was a moment of ambiguity, as Guille and Belinda seamlessly (and often comically) took on the roles of grown-up men and women, Shakespeare’s Ophelia, and the Virgin Mary. 

Sanguinetti’s new book, The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and The Illusion of a Never Ending Summer, follows the girls from age 14 to 24 as they shed the remnants of childhood and grow into young adults. You see them playing, studying, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and kissing boys. Some of the images have a dreamlike and carefree quality reminiscent of Ryan McGinley’s phantasmagoric work, but unlike McGinley’s protagonists, the teenage Guille and Belinda are always brought back to earth, with all its gritty chaos and demands. Belinda becomes a mother at 16, Guille follows soon after.  As the girls get older and take on more responsibilities, play and make-believe fade into the background, forcing Sanguinetti to change her approach to the project. “There was the inevitable awkward stage when I kept thinking of them as children and they asserted themselves as the adolescents and later adults that they were,” she writes by email. “I had to learn to interpret their changes without them being as much accomplices as they had been as children.”

Taken up by their roles as new mothers, the two girls spend less time with each other. For many commentators, this distancing is inevitably sad, marking the end of an era. For Sanguinetti, it is a bit more complicated. “The passing of time and the changes that occur with it elicit many feelings. I tend to be melancholic, but the overall feeling now is one of sort of embracing it all as it happens. Their distancing is a natural thing that happens when we become adults, but it transforms into another kind of connection.” 

This new connection, of two young girls experiencing motherhood at the same time, is hinted at towards the end of the book. You even see glimmers of the girls’ old imagination, as they play with their own children.  Like any good story, you want to know what comes next for the two cousins. Thankfully, Sanguinetti has continued photographing Guille and Belinda. The Adventures of Guille and Belinda will be a trilogy in a few years.

The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and The Illusion of an Everlasting Summer by Alessandra Sanguinetti is published by MACK.