this photo series captures the nonchalance of youth
How a university project evolved into an unwavering documentation of modern young adulthood.
Photography by Bec Martin
Following a stint working among young artists in New York, Australian photographer Bec Martin set her lens upon Melbourne and, in particular, its youth. Her most recent and ongoing work is a series of portraits of her friends, capturing their lives as they navigate burgeoning adulthood rather than rejecting it. Thanks to the timing of her subjects lives Bec's portraits also manage to unpick modern notions of gender roles and sexuality along the way. Cross-pollinating themes explored by those she admires, and much of what’s laid bare before her — the series subverts ideas of identity and the modern individualist, all with a Kids-esque twist.
What first began as a university project soon evolved into an unwavering documentation of the trials and tribulations faced by today’s young adults. While most of the images illustrate fleeting moments of nonchalance, Bec and her subjects — most of whom are close friends — beg questions of their audience and societal perceptions surrounding gender and sexuality, with a light-hearted tenderness. We sat down with Bec to chat about the people who inspire her, her own ideas of gender roles and how they’re embodied.
What is the series about?
I was looking at how gender is explored, particularly at an age where a lot of people are coming to terms with their sexual identity. For me, being at that age as well, it was a really nice experience to talk with my friend and subject Nick about what that meant to both of us, and try to figure out how to put it into photographs. Through that, I started playing with new film cameras and now the photos are a way to learn new processes and just shoot friends for the fun of it.
You were living in New York but are now in Melbourne, why the move?
I moved to Melbourne after spending some time in New York in 2016. I worked for and met some artists there and decided that it was what I wanted to do. I realised most of my favourite photographers had also studied art and moved to Melbourne to study. It’s much more fun down here and sometimes ridiculous.
Can you tell us about the subjects you shot and what primarily drew you to them?
Most of them are friends I’ve made through university who share a similar interest in photography, art and fashion. I used to shoot a lot of strangers, but it’s much more satisfying to shoot people I already know and am comfortable with. I’m not sure exactly what draws me to someone — generally there’s just a mutual interest in shooting something together.
The series appears to challenge gender roles, particularly looking at modern masculinity — was this your intention?
I’m interested in different expressions of masculinity and femininity and how that works for individual people whether it be more traditional, or ambiguous. I’ve had an interesting time questioning my own femininity so I enjoy having those discussions with people. It feels like a constructive time to keep talking about it and I feel like it’s important to acknowledge my privilege, which often doesn’t exist as a luxury for all people exploring their identity as well as encouraging people to continue listening to, and championing intersectional voices. I recommend following June Canedo.
Throughout your work, you explore the use of film and various printing techniques. Can you tell me how this plays into your personal work?
I’ve always been obsessed with photography, but shot entirely digital until about two years ago. I figured I wasn’t always going to get the look I wanted digitally, and I wanted to learn as much as possible about shooting on different cameras, film types and printing and how that affects the colour and feel of a photo. It’s not always practical to shoot film commercially so I experiment with it whenever I’m shooting anything that doesn’t have a client attached to it.
Does shooting on film affect your approach?
Shooting on film definitely changes the way I shoot. You’ve obviously got to be more selective with what you photograph, so sometimes you miss things but you generally put more effort into making the shot look right. Digital only looks good in some light but I think film can be more forgiving.
The images transport us to a Kids -esque world where ‘adults aren’t allowed’ — can you tell me about your influences?
To me it feels more about navigating adulthood rather than rejecting it. There’s an element of uncertainty there and I’m sure that will change as I get older too. I definitely have nothing against adults and I’d say most of the people I shoot are young adults. Mostly because they’re closer to my age and it feels more natural. I’d love to shoot older people too eventually. I love David Armstrong’s book 615 Jefferson Avenue — and Collier Schorr and Wolfgang Tillmans portraits were an influence for the series.
Do you have plans to exhibit the series?
I don’t know if I’d exhibit my portraits, there are a lot of photos of people’s friends out there and I’d only exhibit them if I thought they were doing something different or interesting. For now, it’s just fun to practice and take influence from photographers’ work I love. Instagram is a good enough platform for the minute.