Capturing the Ephemeral Beauty of Adolescence

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© Fumi Nagasaka, KAHL Editions

"We can't be kids forever," says Fumi Nagasaka, whose quixotic debut photobook illustrates the fleeting nature of youth

The problem facing the young, said Quentin Crisp, is always the same: "how to rebel and conform at the same time". It’s this complex, contradictory framework of anxiety paired with abandonment, that outlines the complicated language of teenagers. Totems of both what we once were and what we could have been, is it any wonder that teens have proved creative catnip to artists and writers as varied as Larry Clark and Jane Austen, Kurt Cobain and J. D. Salinger?

Capturing the ephemeral essence of youth has also long been of interest to Fumi Nagasaka, a photographer and casting director whose work has appeared in AnOther and Dazed. Renowned for her unorthodox use of streetcast subjects, Nagasaka found herself particularly taken with shooting portraits of teens and has now developed this personal project into her debut photobook: Untitled Youth. The book is a reminder, she says, “That we can’t be kids forever,” adding that she was captivated by her subjects’ purity. “Those kids have so many dreams about the future. They don’t have to worry about anything.”

An exploration of the unexpected beauty of adolescence, Untitled Youth brings together a series of portraits of teenagers Nagasaka has shot over the past six years. Some are strident, some seem shy; some are cocky and others contemplative; braces and blue hair and Dr. Martens all feature. Shot predominantly in New York (where Japanese-born Nagasaka is now based), Berlin, England and Stockholm, the subjects of the photos were serendipitously happened across on trains and supermarkets rather than deliberately sought out. There’s a beauty in their ordinariness which appeals to Nagasaka, who has a history flipping the tried and tested editorial formula by trying to make even the models she shoots, “look less ‘modelly’”.

“I’m not really interested in shooting hipsters who know what they’re doing, I like kids who are regular, maybe from the countryside, who haven’t read about fashion or art… Very innocent and pure kids. They don’t have to be typically beautiful. They can be nerdy or unique,” she explains. Indeed, it’s her subjects’ inexperience that gives the portraits a spontaneity and touching honesty. “I build a relationship with the people I shoot. I make them trust me because it’s very important, they need to be open to me,” she says.


Nagasaka, who was a basketball-obsessed teen, says it’s impossible to choose a favourite portrait (“I’ve already edited out so many!” she protests) but does single out the picture that appears on the book’s cover as “really special” adding that the boy (who she first shot for a Dazed editorial) is often mistaken for a girl.  She says he visited her in her in Paris last week, and, with the passage of time has become “a totally different person to who I met”. A fitting reminder of the fleeting and ephemeral nature of youth.

Youth by Fumi Nagasaka, published by KAHL Editions, is out October 15, 2016.