Book Review: Coming of Age In Wonderland- Portraits of Teenage Bermuda by Debra Friedman
By Ava McLaughlin
For this is action, this is not being sure, this careless
Preparing, sowing the seeds crooked in the furrow,
Making ready to forget, and always coming back
To the mooring of starting out, that day so long ago.
This poem by John Ashbery is headlined at the beginning of this book of portraits that highlights individuality and the growing maturity of teens living in Bermuda. Debra Friedman started capturing her portraits while in Bermuda during her artist residency after the distinctive individuality of adolescent life around her captured her attention. She decided to photograph the island teens in a casual way so as to truly portray their growing individuality. The pictures were taken with the theme of impromptu captured moments seeming to be “stilled from the flow of time”, as if Friedman had simply pressed the pause button on each of the subjects’ unique lives.
Friedman wished to document the passage of time from adolescence to maturity with a nostalgic feel using a progression of photos in middle school to military uniforms and everything in between. Friedman compares teen life to Alice falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland and the newfound freedom Alice experiences there. With this revelation, Friedman sought to highlight the uncertainty surrounding adolescence when it comes to being free to go, free to stay, or free to do whatever you want, much like Alice in Wonderland. This uncertainty is the same feeling that follows us into adult life; the constant weary state of determining who we are, where we’re going, and the intense freedom of choice.
The portraits show life on the surface while still exploring the depth of individuals as discovered through the subject’s eyes. A common theme among these portraits is that each individual’s eyes are focused on the camera, or to some extent, the audience. Dame Pamela Gordon Banks, the first woman and youngest person to serve as the Premier of Bermuda, comments on how eyes give access to each of the subjects personality. This makes it possible to uncover individual stories and undercurrents, open to individual audience interpretation, producing an air of mystery as we don’t personally know these individuals. To me, this is what makes these images so beautiful; the viewer is allowed to discover the subjects through our own interpretation as they are discovering themselves in their own way, much like real life.
The body language as well as the eyes tell the most about individuality. Through shy, bold, or awkward stances you catch a glimpse into their personal nature. Variations are shown even through uniforms and the decision of how to wear your tie, how to wear your hair, whether they keep pens in their chest or pants pocket, and the writing on their hands. Teenagers are complicated and complex yet these collections of images are so simple, further highlighting each person during the years where it’s hardest to determine who you are as an individual. Friedman’s portraits leave you wondering about what comes next for her subjects as they continue their journey into adulthood while enhancing the feelings of longing to look back at the innocent and youthful times through her capturing of teens in their passage through adolescence.