In summer 2016, I decided to act on a long-simmering idea to do a series of portraits of teenage athletes, a project that was way out of my comfort zone and in an area of photography that I lacked much professional experience with. My daughter is an athlete, and I had been very involved in youth and high school sports. Being a photographer, I had started photographing her games from the time she began playing as a child. Even after she moved on to college, I continued to shoot for my local high school teams mainly for my enjoyment of it, while getting to know many of the players and coaches.
Usually, portraits of teenage athletes are very superficial, but I wanted to do something more meaningful and timeless, using only the natural light from a window in my garage while portraying them in an authentic and contemplative way. I began reaching out to friends and the coaches I had come to know and social media to contact some of the local high school athletes to ask whether they wanted to participate. If they agreed, I would ask them to bring their gear, training outfits, uniform and anything else that would reflect their individuality and style.
The positive feedback from the teenagers and their parents allowed me to overcome my anxiety about the project, and I began to experience feelings of creative renewal and a newfound joy of photography. Some of the parents became emotional after seeing the large-scale print I would give them. The athletes were always polite in their responses and maybe a little embarrassed to see themselves photographed in this way, but I could tell they felt proud of themselves.
From the very beginning, the photographs touched upon something I am still trying to understand fully. This project evolved far beyond my original idea and intentions, not only showing the strength of these teenagers but also revealing their humanity. On a social and community level, they are a beautiful display of youth, diversity and empowerment across race and gender.
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