Lauren Greenfield, an internationally exhibited photographer, concentrates on cultural documentary projects—in Europe, Mexico, and the United States. In Girl Culture, she focuses her attention on contemporary American girls and through compelling and insightful images, explores troubling aspects of growing up female. In her book and exhibition essay, she discusses how this project was informed by her own memories of life in Los Angeles, where “chronic teenage dieting…. gravitation toward good-looking and thin friends….and …. the importance of clothes and status symbols” were strong influences “in that “highly materialistic, imaged oriented” environment.
“In this work, I have been interested in documenting the pathological in the everyday. I am interested in the tyranny of the popular and thin girls over the ones who don’t fit that mold. I am interested in the competition suffered by the popular girls, and their sense that popularity is not as satisfying as it appears. I am interested in the time-consuming grooming and beauty rituals that are an integral part of daily life. I am interested in how girls’ feelings of frustration, anger, and sadness are expressed in physical and self-destructive ways: controlling their food intake, cutting their bodies, being sexually promiscuous. I am interested in the way that the female body has become a palimpsest on which many of our culture’s conflicting messages about femininity are written and rewritten. Most of all, I am interested in the element of performance and exhibitionism that seems to define the contemporary experience of being a girl.”
Read Lauren Greenfield's bio or her Mirror Mirror essay.
Lauren Greenfield interviewed many of her subjects for this project and excerpts of those narratives appear with the exhibition photographs. Greenfield states, “As the photographs are my voice, the interviews give voice to the girls. Although photography’s loyalty to surface truth is its greatest strength, it is nonetheless at a disadvantage when it comes to getting to know individuals. It is my hope that the interviews will give readers [and viewers] a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the girls. Some interviews were recorded at the same time as the photography. Others were conducted months or (in the case of Alison) years after the photograph was taken.”
Joan Jacobs Brumberg
years ago, Greenfield read “Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s seminal book,
The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, which lent a
historical and theoretical context to [her] visual observations.” Brumberg
is a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and Professor at Cornell University,
where she has been teaching history, human development, and women’s studies
for twenty years.
All quotes by Joan Jacobs Brumberg are excerpted from The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Random House, 1997) and Girl Culture (Chronicle Books, 2002)
Girl culture is the key to understanding what it means to be a young woman today or in the past. In every historical epoch, girls have formed a unique set of activities and concerns generated by their developmental needs as well as the adult society in which they live. What girls do, how they think, what they write, whisper, and dream, all reveal a great deal about them and about us. Lauren Greenfield's photographic vision of contemporary girl culture is both a revealing documentary record and a disquieting personal commentary, infused with a distinctly sympathetic but biting point of view.... the lives of girls have changed enormously, along with our perception of them. Girl culture today is driven largely by commercial forces outside the family and local community. Peers seem to supplant parents as a source of authority; anxiety has replaced innocence. Despite the important and satisfying gains women have made in achieving greater access to education, power, and all forms of self-expression, including sexual, we have a sense of disquiet about what has happened to our girls.”
Read Joan Jacobs Brumberg's essay.
Trudy Wilner Stack
Trudy Wilner Stack curated the traveling exhibition Lauren Greenfield's Girl Culture with the artist in 2001 and 2002. This involved prelimary conversations with the photographer about the project when it was in development (the third they have worked on together in some way), early editing sessions in preparation for the publication and the exhibition, and the determination of a final selection for the exhibition (in consultation with CCP Curator of Education Cass Fey) and the CCP permanent collection. Wilner Stack and Greenfield also collaborated on issues of presentation and the use of text in museum galleries. Wilner Stack has organized many exhibitions with working artists, helping them to bring their work to larger public audiences through exposure to original photographs in a museum setting. Her commitment to Greenfield as an apt contemporary inheritor of the social documentary tradition in photography is reflected in Wilner Stack's work to share and celebrate what she calls the photographer's "daring, overdue vision."
Read Trudy Wilner Stack's bio or statement about the exhibition.