In the introduction to photo zine Park Life, Jorge de Cascante writes: "It all fades away in a split second. Did we really steal my dad's car at 16 and drive straight to France to see a girl we had met in summer camp? Probably not... But maybe."
When you're a grown up, the adventures of your youth can seem like a distant memory, especially if Instagram hadn't been invented yet to prove they actually happened. Fascinated with the idea of coming of age today, compared to 20 years ago, Spanish photographer Chus Antón, and friends Ahida Agirre and Grégory Clavijo took to the streets of London to document a group of teenagers. They bound together their findings in a large format, newspaper style zine, Park Life. It's a tribute to life, beauty and the futility of adolescence. We chatted to Chus about the world's fascination with coming of age.
What's your background in photography?
When I was about 12, my father gave me my first camera and I started to take pictures of summer vacations with my family. Later, I attended the Arts School of Oviedo where I met great teachers who introduced me to photographers that I really admire: Martin Parr, Bruce Davidson, William Klein, David Armstrong, Sarah Moon. I've also always had a strong interest in pop and teen culture. I used to take a lot of pictures of my friends in high school and at university documenting our teenagehood -- quite similar to the way I shot Park Life. We didn't have Instagram or Facebook to keep our memories, so that's also probably why. I can also say that music, record covers, musical/fan movements and aesthetics such as Britpop, Spanish kinki cinema, English synth-pop, and the 70s had a strong impact on my work and is also very connected to the 'teen world'.
How did the idea for Park Life come to you?
The idea has always been there. It came out in London the summer of 2015, because we all coincided in space and time and we gathered all the conditions to make it.
Why are we so fascinated by teenagers and teenagedom?
We are very fascinated by that period of life when you live to the fullest. You experience your first times. You start becoming an adult, with your own tastes, developing your own sensibility, but still with that innocence. We especially remember all the music, books and movies that we discovered at that time. We see teenagedom like a 'work in progress' period. This is a decisive step for the rest of your life and that's what makes it so special.
Who are the people in the photos?
18 teenagers, all Londoners, ages 14 to 18. Agnes, Hana, Aisha, Ayanna, Finn, Amber, Felix, Charlie, Lula, Pablo, Sinead, Ophelia, Sonam, Theo, Milanka, Tommy, Ruby, and Rachel.
What are you trying to say about teenagers today in Park Life?
We would like to spread a positive message about teenagers today. Media and society generally tend to disregard the young and valorize the past, because the new generations always come up with new ideals, ethics and codes that aren't fully understood yet. This has always happened, though. While making Park Life, we realized that 'teen spirit' is always the same. We recognized ourselves in the lives of these 18 teens -- in their conversations, expectations about life, their fears, the way they talk, laugh and relate to each other. The only difference from when we were teens are the tools that they use now -- the internet and social media -- to communicate and the environment that surrounds them. But to us, the spirit and the essence of teenagedom remain the same.
What were you like as a teenager?
Each one of us was in his own world, in three different cities. I was in Oviedo, reading all the biographies of my favorite bands, and learning by heart all the lyrics of the Beatles. Grégory was in Arras, spending a lot of time playing video games online, surfing on the web and chatting with people from different countries. Ahida was in Mungia hosting pajama parties and taking photos with her girlfriends on webcam.
Do you think Generation Z has lost some of the magic you experienced of teenagehood because they came of age online, in front of a screen?
To us, the magic of teenagehood basically relies on the lack of experience. When you're a teen, you live everything for the first time. We don't think there's a big connection between the use of the internet and the loss of that magic. Actually, we think the internet is a really good tool to develop your creativity, tastes, knowledge, and self-acceptance faster. It enables you to easily find people with common interests and sensitivity. We wouldn't say the magic of teenagehood has disappeared because of the internet. We'd rather think that the use of the internet makes trends go faster and become more ephemeral than it used to be. Generation Z has a savvy use of the internet: they don't just swallow online information, they develop its capacity to embrace and internalize it.
What's the most rebellious thing you've ever done?
Chus: When I was a teen, I stole most of my record collection.
Grégory: I told my parents I was going to a gig with my friends but in reality we took the car and headed off to the Netherlands for a road trip.
Ahida: My friends and I would always tell our parents we were going to sleep at a friend's house, but we would go to a party and sleep in the street.
What's the hardest part of growing up?
Never being young again, we want 'to be forever young!'
What's the best part of growing up?
Getting your independence, living the way you want to and being surrounded by people you choose to be part of your life.
What advice would you give to young boys and girls coming of age today?
To live life to the fullest as teenagehood is very short and soon it's going to be part of their memory. It only happens once.
Is there a photograph in the zine that has a story behind it making it particularly special for you?
We really love the photograph where Pablo and Lula are having fun on the train. This pic represents the vibe of Park Life and the energy that we felt spending time with this group of teens. We had just spent the whole day in Brighton, and Pablo had bought these beautiful blue and white pajamas in a thrift store and put them on on our way back to London. It was so 'normal' for him to arrive at London Bridge station wearing these pajamas. It was really funny.
What are you working on next?
We are working on publishing our own magazine.
Text Felicity Kinsella