Forbidden Zones; Teenage Bedrooms.

Story by Tim Pershing.


Ian's room was astounding. In places a foot deep in mess, it was a masterpiece of chaos. He lay on his bed, surrounded in a sea of plates, CD covers, clothes both clean and dirty, books, papers, towels, shoes, toys. A typical teenage boy, lying on his stomach, tapping away on his laptop, talking to his friends. The room was precisely as he wanted it. His mothers entreaties to clean were met with stall and deflection, even a sudden willingness to do anything other, even homework. She could deny him things he valued, phone time, on line access, allowance, and still he would not clean up the room. The room, his room, was his anarchistic statement, his refusal to order and compartmentalize his personal space, as the spaces around him were so ordered.

I went and got my camera, and wedging it against the door frame, shot with daylight film at a one second shutter under the incandescent light. The resulting images captivated me, made think back to my teenage bedrooms and the variety of ways that I lived in that environment. The time I painted the walls white and the trim gloss black. Or when I set myself up entirely in my closet, and the time I covered an entire wall in LIFE and National Geographic covers. I thought about the posters of Farrah Fawsett, the black lights. Beads in the doorway. Incense holders burning sweet scented sticks of pot cover-up odor.

The teenage bedroom reflects the life of a teenager in a way nothing else about them does. The favorite stuffed animal that still sits on the shelf of a macho seventeen year old boy. I remember my sister at sixteen, smitten with boys and books, locked into her room, a place that had become so forbidden of entry that to do so was to risk your life. I can see myself standing in her doorway, calling her to dinner, and looking at the mess, a mess to rival Ian's room. She was lying on her bed, a bed that almost hovered off the ground so much stuff had been shoved under it in a long passed attempt to 'clean up'. That was twenty five years ago. I knew I wanted to go into her room now, preserve it for the anthropological, sociological value it carried. I wanted access into these forbidden zones.


I sought out teenagers, starting with the children of friends and neighbors, then moving onto their friends, following the course as it was presented to me. I expected some resistance at first, from either the parent or teen, but in fact have so far encountered only one denial, from an Armenian immigrant in regards to his teen aged daughters room, which he informed me she would not like me to photograph. As for the rest, the parents were rather eager to have these monuments preserved. They offered descriptions over the phone, assuring me that the rooms would be found interesting.

The teens, to a one, were interested in participating, and had certain aspects of their rooms they favored. They naturally fell into the place they were most comfortable, and so many chose to be on their beds. They all presented themselves very seriously to the camera. They did not smile. This was not play. This was their room. This was them.

Examining the rooms closely reveals the subtle, or not so subtle sign posts of each person. The posters of Dennis Rodman in his multi-hued glory above the bed of fourteen year old Desiree, her collection of stuffed animals nearby. The Zen like austerity of Morgans room, actually a shed outside the front door of his house, and his monkish shaved head, Herman Hesse on his bookshelf. Joanne sitting coquetishly on her loft bed, magazine pictures of top models on her wall, her cat rubbing her leg, the suit case... that's not her room below, but the living room, the loft bed alone is her room. The suitcase is her chest of drawers as she bivouacs at her cousins two room rental.

Sometimes it is the lack of elements in a room that say more than what is there. Sometimes it is the contrast between the parental touches and the lay over of the probing, strengthening teen personality starting show. It can be the political slogan on the t-shirt, or the meticulously organized display of who they are, who they want to be. And sometimes, sometimes it's the mess.

© Tim Pershing 1999