Installation view of Sixteen. Image courtesy HOME, photography by Annie Feng.

Sixteen, an age where you are faced with new responsibilities and choices, you can work a part-time job, consent to medical treatments, play the National Lottery and take part in a variety of things that may seem so insignificant to an adult now that were once the start of a new and exciting life. Even with the large responsibilities and weight placed on a young person’s shoulders at this age through education and social pressures, they are still considered too young to have any say in many areas; told they are not old enough to understand. Whilst they still possess a certain innocence to their lives they are smarter and more capable than they are believed to be in the media and society.

Sixteen is an exhibition of 16 UK-based documentary photographers spanning four venues at The University of Salford, HOME, Manchester Central Library and the Horsfall. The exhibition displays the result of the photographers engaging with a group of sixteen-year olds from around the UK to give them a platform to be themselves and show society how clever and politically aware their generation is. Whilst not all artists take the same style of documentary approach with some focusing on traditional portraits with a more direct connection to the viewer and some documenting their lives in a more candid and natural approach, they are all successful in bringing to our attention how extreme an effect the lack of help for young people in some statistically poorer areas of the UK is, and the impact it has on their lives. To achieve such success and acknowledgment for each documented person the works exhibited take the form of a large-scale print that demands the viewers’ attention and respect. Many prints are accompanied by a written reflection from the person on show, discussing their likes, fears and the struggles they face at the age of sixteen. Their stories can be difficult to read, causing the viewer to sympathise and realise how little help these people get, encouraging us to think about how we could do more.

Photographer and organiser of the exhibition Craig Easton felt compelled to investigate why sixteen-year olds in Scotland could vote in the 2014 Scottish referendum, with sixteen-year olds in the rest of the UK allowed no such meaningful vote. Why are other teenagers not granted the same opportunity and responsibility to help push important changes in the rest of the UK? Comparing adult viewers’ present lives to the lives of those photographed creates a reminiscent atmosphere that brings about the sad realisation we are pushing this age group into a space where they are neither children nor adults – causing them to feel unappreciated and forgotten – a position we too were once in.

Many different methods are used to portray these stories between the works of the photographers, however they all create a special and personal connection with those they photographed. This exhibition is not just a collaboration between the photographers, but just as equal a collaboration between themselves and the sixteen-year olds, instilling a feeling of inclusion and respect they often don’t get in society. The exhibition started with an idea and a question, and it is the people in the photographs that tell their answer and story, of what life as a sixteen-year old is like today.

Nicole Coyle is an Art History student and writer based in Manchester.

Sixteen, held at the following venues across Manchester:

New Adelphi Exhibition Gallery & Atrium, 15 February – 14 April 2019.

HOME, 16 February – 17 March 2019.

Manchester Central Library, 17 February – 15 April 2019.

42nd Street & Horsfall Space, 16 February – 8 March 2019.

Published 13.04.2019 by James Schofield in Reviews

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