Charlie, Jones Beach, 1976.
Teenager: that tricksy time when you’re no longer a child but not quite yet the adult. When hormones light fires and the good ole triumvirate of sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock’n'roll drop by to shake everything up.
Joseph Szabo was teaching a bunch of such teenagers at Malverne High School, Long Island in 1972. Szabo was 28-years old—ancient to most teenagers—and was finding it a hell of a difficult to connect with his young charges. He had all but given up trying when he decided to start taking photographs of the kids in his class. This then led to his photographing all the kids in the school. Then all the kids in the neighborhood. He didn’t discriminate. He just wanted to document every kind of student he could find and let his photographs tell their story.
The kids responded to Szabo’s interest. They soon let him follow them down to the beach, or out to their hangouts and homes after school. Szabo’s pictures moved from posed portrait against wall or on beach to youths caught unawares like nobody was watching.
These kids lived in a world they described as “doing nothing” because they were neither at work or at play. It was this unselfconscious spontaneity that Szabo captured so perfectly that made his photographs stand out. They are beautiful and sublime depictions of a golden season when the world is still magical and mysterious before the first frost of adulthood brings cynicism and fear.
Szabo’s work has inspired movie directors like Sofia Coppola and Cameron Crowe and a shopload of fashion directors on shoots for every glossy magazine you can think of. Now in his seventies and retired from teaching in 1999, Szabo still takes photographs of the teenagers and adults he meets on his travels. But nowadays people are more cagey about having their picture taken and it ain’t so easy to connect in the same way. But Szabo still manages to capture those unguarded epiphanic moments when no one else is looking.
Three Friends, 1976.
Anthony and Johanna.
Priscilla, 1969. It became the cover for Dinosaur Jr’s album Green Mind
See more of Szabo’s iconic pictures, after the jump…