Rania Matar Statement

Artist Statement

"L'Enfant-Femme" (the Child-Woman) are portraits of young teens and pre-teens, investigating how they interact with the camera. The only instruction I give the girls is not to smile and I allow them to fall into their poses as they wish. My aim is to portray the girl when allowed to pose herself as she wishes in front of the camera. I try to capture alternatively the angst, the self-confidence or lack thereof, the body language, the sense of selfhood and the developing sense of sexuality and womanhood girls that age experience.

For some, even though they are not smiling, one can see their sense of selfhood and the almost sensual pleasure in being photographed and in engaging the camera, while others are almost defiant in the way only teens know how to be, and others still are more separate from the camera, show more angst, are more self-conscious or look away. Those are all emotions girls of that age alternatively experience as they start being aware of who they are, of their changing bodies, their beauty, their womanhood, but also of the world around them and the standards of beauty and attitudes they think they need to emulate. They are, however, also still young girls who fluctuate between being the child they still are and the young woman they are beginning to turn into. Are they (and are we meant to see them as) little girls, teenagers, or young women?

This work was inspired by my previous project A Girl and Her Room where the focus was on the older teen within her private space. I felt I wanted to get closer and focus on the girl herself and not on the space, and simultaneously my thirteen year old daughter is transforming before my eyes, alternating between being the little girl I know and a young woman I don’t know yet. The focus is now on the younger teen, her expressions, her gestures and her body language instead of the space she occupies.

I am photographing girls in the US where I live and in Lebanon where I am originally from. The two locations are not meant to be a comparison, on the contrary, the lines blur quickly. Regardless of place, background and religion, girls that age everywhere seem united by similar feelings, aspirations and attitudes. I hope to photograph these girls every year through their adolescence.

The images are shot on medium format film and scanned. Exhibition prints are archival 30”x 40” pigment prints on Baryta paper.

A Girl and Her Room

As a mother of a teenage daughter I have been watching with awe her passage from girlhood into adulthood, with all the complications that it entails. As I am observing her and her girlfriends, I became fascinated with the transformation taking place, with the adult personality shaping up and with an insecurity and a self-consciousness that are now replacing the carefree world they had live in so far. I started photographing them in group situations, and quickly realized that those young women were so aware of each others' presence, and their being together affected very much whom they were portraying to the world. I also realized that under an air of self-assurance, those girls were often fragile, self-conscious and confused. While their bodies were developing fast into women's bodies, they were still young girls who suddenly had to behave like adults.

From there, emerged the idea of photographing each girl alone. I originally let the girls choose the place and was slowly welcome into their own private spaces: their bedrooms, an area that is theirs, that they can control, decorate, trash and be themselves in, in an outside world that is often intimidating. I spent some time with each girl so she was fully comfortable with me around and was able to let down her guards, free of any preconception of what she would like to portray consciously to the world. I was fascinated to discover a person on the cusp on becoming an adult, but desperately holding on to the child she just barely left behind, a person on the edge between two worlds. Posters of rock stars were often displayed above a bed still covered with stuffed animals; mirrors were always an important part of the room, a reflection of the girls’ image to the outside world.

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