© Danny Wilcox Frazier, 2008 from American Youth
Jumping Rock, North Liberty, Iowa © Danny Wilcox Frazier, 2008 from American Youth

American Youth

Love it or loathe it, you can’t help but be seduced by it. What? America? Fuck, yeah! As a country that came of age with photography – during the gold rush years – it’s always had a heightened awareness of its own representation. So this compilation, the ambitiously-titled American Youth, edited by New York agency Redux using its own photographers’ work, has a cachet that most catalogue-style publications lack. It’s been sitting around the Foto8 offices for a while, shooting out secret little smiles to me as I walk past the ‘books for review’ table. And, blame it on the sunshine, but today felt like the right day to write about it.

Heavily mythologised in literature, the youth of America have even had names through which to chart their evolution, as contributing essayist Steve Appleford points out, from the so-called Greatest Generation to the iGeneration. There is something hauntingly post-apocalyptic about the cover picture by Erika Larsen: three boys and two girls in the Arizona dessert, embalmed by the golden light of the magic hour. Uniformly dressed in jeans and hoodies, their gaze is held by the setting sun, which may, as they hover on the perilous cusp of their adult years, take down with it the very ashes of their childhoods.

Divided with bland agency-speak keywords into four (pretty much interchangeable) sections – Live, Love Work and Play – the work here is nevertheless of a consistently high standard. While we know none of the 25 photographers made these photographs especially for such a publication, it still has a cohesive feel as well as some stand-out images among the shot-for-stock. Among these is another Larsen image, this time a portrait of two young men so closely entwined it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. A series in black and white by Danny Wilcox Frazier at Jumping Rock on the Iowa River captures the unique cocktail of youth: hazy nihilism combined with crazy invincibility, a sort of Die Forever mentality when the sea is sparkling just for you, stirred and definitely shaken.

© Erika Larsen 2009