The In-Between Years: Stories of London Teenagers

This ongoing project began as part of my recently completed MA in Anthropology at SOAS, University of London. The first piece I made was about Ryan and Alfie, two teenage boys I met by chance at Walthamstow Reservoirs in north London. I was struck by their enthusiasm and unwavering dedication to fishing and it made me think about the representation of modern-day teenagers in contemporary society.

I am fascinated by the transition from childhood to adulthood and how every teenager experiences these formative years in a very individual way. As adults, we have all navigated our way through the tricky teenage years, at times uncomfortable and unsure who we are. Some teenagers I met for this project were shy and awkward, others appear confident and grown-up, but all are struggling with their identity and place in the world.

The term ‘teenager’ became widely used in Western culture in the 1940s and represented a new optimism, but living in London I became accustomed to seeing bad press about teenagers, with news reports telling us about the problems of gangs and anti-social behavior on the streets. I wanted to challenge these negative stereotypes. Behind the headlines are many teenagers with unusual interests and hobbies, who are committed and passionate about what they do. My anthropological studies opened up a new approach to my subjects and allowed me to engage more fully with each story by combining images with sound.

The teenagers I met often referred to their passion as something they could rely on and something that will always be there. They are aware of life’s uncertainties and understand that things such as school, friendships and relationships, can come and go. Their heightened interest in a particular activity or topic, be it politics, fishing or dancing, provides them with stability and focus in a world of unpredictability. In many ways these teens are wiser than their years, in other ways they have an innocence that is unshakeable, but each teenager has a unique voice, uncovering personal truths, anxieties and desires.

Alys Tomlinson

Alys Tomlinson is an award-winning editorial and fine art photographer based in London. Having grown up in Brighton, Alys went on to study English Literature and Communications at the University of Leeds. After graduating, she moved to New York for a year and was given her first commission for Time Out, before coming back to London to study photography at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. She has just completed a part-time MA in Anthropology of Travel, Tourism and Pilgrimage (Distinction) at SOAS, University of London, which ties in with a long-term, personal project she is working on about pilgrims. Alys combines commissioned work for editorial, design and advertising clients with personal work, which she publishes and exhibits. In 2013 she published her first book ‘Following Broadway’, a series of 40 portraits taken when she walked the length of Broadway in NYC, photographing strangers she encountered along the way.