TEENAGE by Joseph Szabo
BY : LIZ RAISS
I think it’s fitting that Joseph Szabo’s iconic photo book, Teenage, helped usher in my own teen awakening. Thirteen years old and in the throes of puberty, I became so obsessed with Szabo’s photographs of the students of Malverne High School in Long Island that I crossed dimensions to enter their world. I wore the same sharply tailored jeans and peasant blouses Szabo’s girls wore, I fell in love with their boyfriends, I saw what desire and young love looked like, and I liked what I saw.
When I could finally tear myself away, I realized Szabo’s subjects were old now, some maybe dead, or just regular old people, parents, and my heart broke a little. But then I would just open the book again.
Joseph Szabo is a deeply American photographer, who studied at Pratt before teaching photography at Malverne from 1972 to 1999. The photos in Teenage are born of that period, taken in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It’s unclear whether the magic of Teenage is due to its era, to its subjects, who straddle the line between adolescence and adulthood, or to Szabo, whose intimacy with the subjects transports the viewer.
Whatever the reason, it’s undeniable that Teenage captured a kind of unique, rare youth consciousness, and it’s become a classic. The students’ clothes inspire contemporary designers, the composition of these images inform present day portrait photography, and the life held within its pages took its viewers, like me, to another world entirely.