exploring our love, obsession and fascination with youth
Photographer Heather Lighton's upcoming book 'Young 2' is an unapologetic celebration of adolescent beauty.
Young women have always inspired art. From Vermeer's luminous subjects to Elle Fanning's magazine covers, we're obsessed with what it means to be on the cusp of adulthood. It's a subject that has interested photographer Heather Lighton for years: her first photo book Young documented the lives of the young women around her. Now she's preparing for its follow up, Young 2, where she'll capture a new crop of girls so fresh they could have been picked this morning.
Folded in with Heather's dreamy representations of the space between girl and womanhood is an examination of what it is to be young and trying to work out where you fit into the world. Her pictures are quietly and unapologetically sensual because, as she points out, youth and beauty are ripe with sexuality. But under her gaze the work holds back from ever feeling exploitative. The balance is achieved because the subjects are her friends, and the images are infused with Heather's genuine love for them and interests in their worlds. That bond is imprinted on the images.
So this is a continuation of your previous book Young. How does it feel different?
I had a better idea of what I wanted to achieve this time. I also spent a huge amount of time shooting. I wanted options and the chance to spend more time with my subjects. Visually it's going to be bigger — lots more photos, nice design, just a beautiful object.
It makes sense you'd move from more of a magazine format to a coffee table book, but why did you want to stick to a similar theme?
Young is a project which theoretically could never end — the ongoing nature of life means there's endless subject matter. Plus I enjoyed the last book so much, I guess I didn't want it to end.
Young women are so often the subjects of photo projects, when setting out with something like this how do you make sure you're bringing something different to the representation?
I think my involvement in the girls lives makes this project pretty different. It's not like a fashion shoot where a girl shows up, you shoot and she leaves. I get to spend a lot of time with each girl on different days and try and get to know them. I've always been inquisitive, and I have a genuine interest in what it's like growing up right now. It's not unusual for me and one of my subjects to end up being pretty good friends afterwards, which is really special.
Do you feel protective of your subjects?
I'm naturally protective of all my subjects, I always want them to be comfortable and happy. But I can't control what viewers bring to it. After all there is something inherently sexual about youth, but I don't think that's a bad thing.
That is a good point, being seen as young and sexy doesn't always mean you're passive in your sexualisation.
Some of the girls I shoot are really sexually confident and feel real authority over their own image, which was interesting to talk about with them. Youth and beauty is everywhere and there's a long history of the world's obsession with it. But I think the photos in this book are also a documentation of these young women's lives right now. I seem to have an equal amount of male and female buyers across the world. Saying that, the country it's been most easy to find stockists in besides here, is Japan. That's really exciting for me as I have a real affinity for Japan and love its book culture.
Why do you think Japan particularly embraced you?
Well Young is slightly inspired by Japanese fanzines, which are basically photo books of cute girls doing everyday things.
You mentioned being close to your subjects, did you already know them?
For this book I put a casting call out on my Instagram and got lots of amazing responses. I also had a back catalogue of girls I didn't get to shoot from the last book. Other than that it's all Instagram, street casting and word of mouth.
A lot of your work is about shooting this revolving cast of eternally youthful women. Does it ever make you feel strange about ageing or your own appearance?
Unfortunately most women struggle with their appearance and age. I'm no stranger to this: everyone gets to be young, but not everyone gets to be beautiful. What I really learnt was that everyone has insecurities and hang ups, and the nice thing about being older is you can kind of mentor younger girls and let them know every thing's going to be cool.
Text Wendy Syfret
Photography Heather Lighton