Getting a grasp on what being a youth in America is like these days takes plenty more than a few years in a classroom. So many people see the culture and counter-culture of American youth through a looking glass, and very little else. But, how can anyone understand the different lifestyles and cultures of the young without going out and spending time seeing their lives firsthand?
Well, this is just what photographer Michael Franzini did to put together his forthcoming book, 100 Young Americans, which I am lucky enough to have received an advance copy of. Michael is a youth culture expert, and Emmy Award-winning director and photographer from Los Angeles. He's spent years working with Public Interest, a non-profit ad agency that he founded to create youth-targeted advertising for MTV and many other networks. But, there was one important question that he wanted to answer: What does it really mean to be an American youth today?
Wanting - needing an answer, what's a person to do? In case you haven't guessed it yet, Michael went on a nationwide search. From Alaska to Florida, from Maine to California, Franzini traveled to all fifty states to try to get a firsthand look into life as a young American.
Speaking to hundreds of diverse teens - including a broad array of ethnicities, cultures, socioeconomic groups, and educational backgrounds - he set out on a journey to learn what it truly means to be a young adult in the United States. The result? A photojournalistic masterpiece. The book is a profile of 100 young people from diverse backgrounds and interests.
This is how Harper's International, the book's publisher, describes it:
Misty is a devout Christian who lectures about abstinence and virginity at high schools across the country.
Kohl has a boyfriend named Kohl who lives in a different state. They talk online every day but have never met face to face.
Blessing emigrated from Nigeria when she was 7. She graduated at the top of her high school class and is now a Harvard pre-med freshman.
Boris got his first tattoo at 16 and now he's addicted. At 19 he already has 35 of them.
These are just four of the many teens you'll meet in One Hundred Young Americans, the first book to paint the full picture of youth culture in America today.
Gorgeously photographed and meticulously researched, this year-long project represents photographer Michael Franzini's 30,000-mile journey in search of what it truly means to be a teenager in this hyper-connected, media-driven society. Unlike previous generations, these young people have all grown up with unprecedented access to media and information, and their private lives are more public than ever before.
Inside, you will read stories that will inspire, move, excite, and even anger you. Along this journey, you will meet people who share your experiences, who remind you of others, and who are unlike anyone you have ever met. What they ultimately have in common is that they are struggling to find their identity and become independent. They are growing up.
For each of the 100 young people profiled in the book, he spent hours interviewing them and their parents, capturing the conversations on video and taking rolls and rolls......and rolls of photos.
Through images and stories, this book examines the social worlds of young people. But, Franzini doesn't do it like a textbook or classroom would. Instead, he explores their lives in their natural environments; from their suburban bedrooms to their urban streets; from shopping malls to music, backgrounds, school and even dropping out.
They are the digital generation. They are, in many ways, like young Americans from the past - upbeat and anxious to make something of themselves - and motivated to make a positive difference in the world around them.
But, in other ways, the youth of today live a life like no young generation before them. This generation is the most marketed to in history, from a much younger age and on several different screens at home, at school and just about everywhere else. In many ways, you can see this and the reactions to it - from those who follow, to those who lash out and rebel; from those who are part of the mainstream culture to those who are part of the modern subcultures.