What began as a personal investigation by Rania Matar to understand her own daughter by serendipity became a broader investigation of a young girl’s transition through adolescence to womanhood. This transitional period is marked by discovery and introspection, effort and work that her subjects undertake in an attempt to define their own identity.
Matar has chosen to work collaboratively with her subjects, photographing them in a unique space, the girl’s bedrooms. Her color documentary style is a wonderful fit to narrate the complexity of her subjects in these places, unlike her earlier book photographed in Black & White which distilled her narrative into a strong graphical statement. Her subject’s bedrooms are a personal sanctuary that can be afforded to each of them by their families. These rooms make a private and indirect statement about their individual identity, as compared to the external and public statement created by their attire and make-up.
The collaborative portraits are a dance between the subject and a new acquaintance, who is both an older woman and a photographer. The girls are being requested to help create an environmental style portrait that will eventually reveal private emotions and places. In looking at these photographs, I sense a complex mix of vulnerability and openness, with yet a tinge of weariness that may stem from the knowledge that they are revealing some very private thoughts and will potentially be exposed to judgment.
To further broaden the scope of her narrative, Matar mashes together two different cultural areas, the Northeastern section of the United States with the Middle East region of Lebanon. As such, this invites comparisons of the similarities and the contrasts of the adolescent girls of these two regions. Both geographies have a range of economic conditions, with perhaps a greater range in these conditions in the Lebanon body of work. Likewise, I note how religion seems to be an ever-present subtext to her subjects in Lebanon as expressed in their personal statements.
This book is a talisman to remind me of my daughter’s passage through these turbulent times and now I watch as my granddaughter begins to establish her individuality in her room.
The book is a hardcover with dust jacket in a horizontal design, which suits the vast majority of Matar’s photographs. Frequently with the photograph’s title, there are quotes made by her subjects that were obtained during their collaborative event. There are essays by Susan Minot and Anne Tucker and a statement by Matar.
Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook
Other photobooks by Rania Matar reviewed on The Photobook: Ordinary Lives