About Between Girls
In 1985 after a decade of shooting on the street I felt compelled to direct my camera to a more internal perspective and focus on the psychology of relationships. I began documenting the friendship of a group of teenage girls in New York City. My intention was to look at the emotional bonding that happens between girls at age 16 and work on a documentary project about the emblematic relationships that happen between girls, and consider how that could be articulated in photographs. I had no idea that 30 years later I would finally be completing this project.
I was introduced to Molly Brover, a 16-year-old high school junior and asked her if I could photograph her and her friends. Molly agreed, and I began spending time with the teenagers on a regular basis and documenting the mundane rituals of their friendship. Their enthusiasm for my project offered me the dialogue I was looking to establish, an emotional interior world that groups of girls can experience together as teenagers.
Ten months later, Molly was hit by a car and killed while on vacation in Cape Cod. I was devastated — but resolved to keep the project going. I realized that Molly would remain 17, and the rest of the girls would become women. This inspired me to continue to document the girls in various ways over the years to come.
Over time I amassed hours of footage and hundreds of photographs. My interest in finding creative ways to extend a visual story led me to design an exhibition that ponders women's friendships using photography and complementary media within the context of the physical gallery space.
An endeavor that began with 35mm black and white photographs evolved into a 30-year meditation on friendship which expanded to include audio interviews, old school video, a three-screen channeled video, collage, and a collection of small books and ephemera that explore the archive.
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In 2018 I began a collaboration with Dutch photo book designer Teun van der Heijden. Teun understood how to house this complex narrative within the architectural structure of a book and together we have crafted a winning design, a powerful template that embraces the essence of this long-term undertaking. Kehrer Verlag in Germany agreed to publish the book in a small run. The limited edition book of Between Girls published in 2021 was printed on four different paper stocks, and includes QR codes for the reader to access the various media elements that are an integral part of the project. The goal of Between Girls has always been to weave numerous media together and create an articulate visual narrative. I am excited to share Between Girls as a book, an object that viewers can hold in their hands, an experience that is both visceral and interactive.
Between Girls has been developed into a multi-media exhibition using books, audio, video, ephemera, and collage, along with black and white silver gelatin images. The installation was first created for the OK Centrum for Contemporary Art in Linz, Austria in 2008 and is part of the ArtBase for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
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Silver Gelatin Prints
(20) 16x20 Framed Silver Gelatin Prints From The High School Years
12-Minute Audio Piece
In 1990 I created an audio companion for the photographs. The audio can be heard in the gallery using earphones or by calling up the recording via a phone number and listening to it on a cell phone.
I found the girls’ voices and the circular rhythm of their conversations compelling and started to think about how I could combine them with the photographs. I invited a few of the women into the sound studio when they were home from college and asked them to reflect back on their high school friendships. I created a 12-minute piece.
Sequential panels of six of the women.
Each Triptych is a grouping of three 16x20 Silver Gelatin Prints mounted together to form 16x60 panels. Shown in a progressive sequence, each woman are seen at 16, in their 20’s and in their 30’s. Included are photographs of Molly, who died at the age of 17. Her panel pointedly spans ten months of documentation.
Three Screen Video Projection
Video interviews done with the women when they were thirty-nine in a black box studio. The quietude of the projection room opening and closing with light allows for a reflective layer for the viewer to experience the women's thoughts, feelings, and memories and are integral to the central meanings of the installation.
Ideally the projection is seen in a darkened side room adjacent to the main gallery space. It is designed to be projected on three seperate walls using three projectors or on one wall with one projector.
A Table of Books
Nine zines sit on a table. A large selection of images from the archive form a collection of books that explore various narrative ideas. Through editing, sequencing and cataloging, the viewer can experience a concert of images created over the span of the project.
Old School Video
My archive of videotape of the women over the years is evidence of the rapid changes in technology -- high 8, beta and digi cam -- and they are of diverse quality. They become video pieces, soundless clips of gestures and chatter seen on an old school monitor. Like old movies, silent, and at variable speeds, they speak of the gesture of passing time, part of the moving train out of youth and into adult life.
Click the image of the Sony monitor to see video samples
Ephemera Displayed in Vitrines
The relics of project history are sorted and edited to an articulate form and displayed as ephemera in vitrines. One case contains historical artifacts. A book dummy that made the rounds in the late 1980s sits next to a rejection letter from Aperture informing me that though they like the project they are publishing a book about coming of age by photographer Sally Mann (About 12). Here my project's destiny eclipses with Mann's before she is well known. A copy of Ms. Magazine (when it was still a commercial publication) celebrating its 15th Anniversary features one of my classic Between Girls photographs with an article by the feminist and essayist Ellen Willis. Next to it, an article on teen lust in the short-lived magazine 7 Days displays a few more of my classic images. Both of these publications have complimentary 1980 fonts of black, red, and white.
The other ephemera case is for Molly. A display of Molly's diary writings, passionate tidbits of teenage angst collaged with writing by the other girls in memoriam, the Bronx High School of Science newspaper, a few work print portraits, a piece of Molly's voice speaks, alive and resonating on pieces of paper housed in a glass case.
8Ft x 4.5 Ft Xerox Collage
Photocopies abound in my archive. Leftover book dummy experiments and other process conversations along the way were stored away as important notations to self. In harvesting the hundreds of pieces of Xerox paper there also is also evidence of the technology shifts. The earliest copies are low grade and contrasty, and the most recent rendered by digital apparatus are tonally photographic and sharp. Yet another narrative element to interact with the stand alone silver gelatin images and the various other media.
Portraits and instagrams of the Women at Age 46
In the summer of 2015 I spent ten days crossing the country and visiting each of the women. I created formal portraits as well as shooting iPhone reportage style instagrams. These images are seen hung informally salon style or can be exhibited on iPad screens.
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Since 1999, Between Girls has been part of the Sponsorship Program at The New York Foundation for The Arts, which has provided non-profit status and funding opportunities. This program has offered Between Girls the opportunity to solicit individual contributors and foundations during the various stages of project development. Between Girls; A Passage To Womanhood can be found on NYFA’s website which offers potential donors free access to view and contribute funding at any time. This project continues to be indebted to a community of supporters whose belief has helped sustain its development over its long life.
Please contact Karen Marshall about the book, exhibition, or about licensing or using excerpts from Between Girls in collaboration with other programming. Marshall is also available to speak at your event, symposium or conference.
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