Updated: Jul 6
Going back to where I used to hang out at a teen is a desperate exercise of wanton nostalgia. I don’t like these places now, I didn’t like them 25 years ago either. There’s a sense unease and a lingering deterrence. They were and still are spaces of non-belonging.
This could have a lot to do with a life-long self-conscious belief I didn’t fit in, which dominated my thoughts as a child and only intensifies the older I get. This feeling of not belonging is one of the reasons I started this project, and from research it is now obvious that it wasn’t just my own mindset causing this feeling – but it was the places I was hanging out in that also compounded it.
These were spaces where no one really belongs. Transient and grungy spaces. Shopping centre carparks, stairwells, and shop fronts. Service stations and fast-food joints. Walking the streets for something to do and for an excuse to leave the house. To try to happen across others doing the same. Hopefully boys.
Later on it was all about boys and drinking and smoking. But in those innocent teenage years we just wanted to hang out. I don’t really remember having much of an objective. Usually we would hang out at someone’s house. In summer it was at whoever’s house had a pool. But a lot of the time we didn’t want to be around our own home, or around our parents. So, we walked, from one friend’s house to another’s. “Stay together.” Walking the suburb was either an imposition or the purpose. It was a huge meandering outer-suburb with a dilapidated shopping centre, several fast-food restaurants and one bus route. Walking it allowed us time for detours and destinations.
Security ordered us to move on and not loiter around the entrances to the shopping centre. To stop playing around with the trolleys. We became bored of the families and plastic interior at McChucks and were shooed away from sitting along the gutter at the drive-through. Walking the streets, we were told we were hot by an adult man – to which I yelled back “fuck off pedo.” We ran then. I felt guilty that I put us in danger. My group of girlfriends. All we wanted to do was hang out and talk and be seen, but not seen by adult eyes.
I recently revisited (and plan to revisit more) places from my teenage hood. This series of photos there/then explore the in-between spaces we felt relegated to and expelled from as teenagers. It has been interesting to go back and contemplate these spaces. To view them with a scrutinising eye. To see what they offer, and what they deny. To remind myself why these were the places we went to. This series of photos may seem nostalgic in that they offer a romanticised view of liminal spaces; however they are intended as paradoxical visual critiques of the left-over spaces and reminders of what teenage girls seek, need and find in public space.
Thinking about those times now, I see the neediness for belonging. Not just with my peers, but with my place. The suburb didn’t offer anything by way of ‘teenage girls, welcome here.’ All we were told was that we weren’t welcome – by adults, by suburban design, sometimes by other roaming teens.
A lot has changed in 25 years. City councils now include teenagers’ needs in their strategic plans – alongside plans for stemming anti-social behaviour and loitering and appeasing local business owners. But are teenager girls in the outer suburbs still hanging to just hang out?
photographic series (ongoing)