The New Tribes of Great Britain
I remember what it felt like at seventeen. I was going to be the modern Renaissance Man: a film director, a novelist, an actor, a socialist politician and perhaps a photographer. By the time I was old, I’d have made my creative mark, saved the world, settled down with the love of my life in a rambling house in the country, an old Bristol car and lots of beautiful children. I would have retired by 30.
I grew up with the sanctioned sense of entitle-ment a public school education affords; becoming a product of the great middle class aspirational tribe. I was encouraged to buy into an ancient ideology; one that actively encouraged partition in British society whereby the privileged had a right to rule over the less fortunate. A class system writ large when our headmaster told us that we had ‘been trained to be managers of men’.
This, however, was at the start of the Thatcher years. Young people were politicised and shocked by this stentorian prime minister who gloried in war and attacked anything that dissented from her dystopian vision. Even at public school we reacted against the system; we marched and campaigned for a better, more equal way forward. Despite believing this, going to art college and becoming a photographer, I have watched successive governments erode all I held dear in my country. Needless to say I never became the nation’s socialist hope; nor did I get that Bristol car. Better than that, I have spent the last thirty years documenting Britain through such changes.
In 2008, when the tabloids were blurting out daily reports of teenage-gang knife, gun and drug related crime, I was commissioned to photograph an essay on UK youth. Rather than take these pronouncements on face value I wanted to look under the surface , so instead of seeking out tyro gangsters in tower block, cliché-ridden urban squalor, I felt an in-depth look at the country’s young people would serve a better purpose. In order to understand the issues they faced in this era of social media, and alarmism about ‘hoodies’, I travelled to different areas of the country both urban and rural, looked at class and cultures and talked in depth with this new generation who are the nation’s future.
Six years later I am still photographing and their situations resonate deeply. The all-embracing unity of youth that I remember as that motivated teenager has all but gone. It is now illegal to march in protest in the UK without official permission. Thatcher started that and Blair finished the job for her. Councils up and down the country have closed many facilities that catered to the young due to lack of funding, and the police swoop on the groups of teenagers who now gather on the streets since they have nowhere else to go. This Catch 22 situation is in part responsible for a universal malaise among Britain’s youth. ‘Where can we go and what can we do?’ is a common cry. The government postures about clamping down on gang culture, but the gangs exist because of the lack of opportunity or hope for the future. Another Catch 22 – or so it seems from those I’ve spent time with. With youth comes rebellion and a need for belonging. Belonging to something, anything.
In addition to this there is now a new, aspirational factor to growing up in the UK. Countless ‘reality’ TV programmes have spawned the myth that anyone can be famous. I spent time with Chloe-Jasmine Whichello, an example of this cultural phenomenon. At 24 she has already appeared on three TV shows. Her contention aged 16 in her first X Factor audition was that life would be easy if she achieved fame. Arguably there is a parallel here to the riots of 2011, where youths gathered (illegally) in inner cities and, rather than demonstrate their deep political disaffection, were rounded on for raiding clothes shops and stealing big brands in what was seen as their claim to a status others possessed that they did not.
I have witnessed the growth of a new tribal culture in my country. It is expressed in subtle dress codes, which vary, like the British accent, from town to town and estate to estate. At the Notting Hill carnival, the war cry is sounded when young Londoners cry ‘North!’ or ‘West!’, rallying their mates from different postal codes. This tribalism is atavistic; not hidebound in colour or creed but in areas. One clear commonality amongst urban youth is a new language, a kind of patois that is universally understood by those under 25 and met with bafflement by everyone else. It is certainly a statement: “I am young, I understand and you don’t.”
Despite the bleakness faced and felt by so many British youths, a new generation with new ideas is being forged out of this malaise. I just hope that the words of my headmaster don’t resonate in the ears and hearts of those privileged boarding school youths of today and that this tribal divide will narrow rather than widen. The next generation here needs to change that. My generation has certainly failed them.
by Jocelyn Bain Hogg
Through Weakness into Strength
My aim for Sea Change was to document Portugal’s future by capturing sentiments of its youth. My question was; “What is my generation’s perspective on the present and their future?” The resulting body of work illustrates several aspects of Portuguese youth in order to understand and represent how the ongoing financial and social depression is challenging lives. I also sought to document a range of ordinary, traditional and innovative experiences of this genera-tion in Portugal.
In common with other European nations Portugal has been gripped by an enduring economic and social crisis. I have heard the word ‘crisis’ ever since I was a child. Nevertheless, the financial situation has become even worse in the last four years. Given weak levels of investment and the lack of job opportunities in Portugal, emigration has turned out to be the destiny of many young people. Since 2011, after the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank gave the country a €78billion financial bailout, the economy has deteriorated even further.
Unemployment rates have increased from 12.7 percent in 2011 to 16.2 percent in 2013. In 2013, 38.1 percent of those unemployed were aged between 15 and 24, and 19 percent were between 25 and 34 years old. The need to leave the country is a harsh reality. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of emigrants between the ages of 20 and 29 increased from 5,644 to 21,585. While I was working on this project, more than 50 percent of the people I talked to shared with me their desire either to move away from Portugal entirely, or go abroad to gain the necessary experience to survive.
The struggle goes beyond unemployment; what work people do get is always precarious. Young people often told me: “In Portugal I work to survive and not to live.” Yet somehow I met people with hope, people who believed in their future, people who genuinely trusted in their plans and who were determined to see them through – if possible in Portugal, other-wise abroad. They had particular faith and dynamism in areas such as the arts, agriculture and tourism.
Despite the fact that the current Government has made significant cuts in funding for the Arts, the young artists I met firmly believed in their work and potential.
Despite the ever-rising emigration figures, many young people in Portugal either do not have the opportunity to leave the country or actively want to stay there, creating their own businesses and finding new opportunities. There is a growing swell of young people adopting traditional careers such as crafts, singing Fado, bullfighting and even breeding donkeys. In particular, we are witnessing a return to agriculture and fishing. More are using the natural resources our country has to offer, some completely changing their lifestyles and professions, whilst others are going back to their roots. The most enterprising solutions do not always come from highly educated people; some are initiated by individuals who did not go beyond primary school.
In the poorer neighbourhoods of Lisbon and Porto I came across some difficult life stories. Yet despite living in extremely poor conditions and violent surroundings, those young people too, hold onto hope, a will to work and to find a better life. Such challenges, choices and beliefs are all documented in this project.
Some young people have been turning the crisis into a positive life experience. I also met young sportsmen and women; swimmers and kickboxers, talented enough to have achieved sponsored pro-fessional careers in Portugal. Sadly though, many have to train abroad to become professional athletes.
Finally, as a young Portuguese documentary photographer I am glad to have been in contact with such a wide range of people and to have recorded so many stories about my country’s youth. Those people shared with me their feelings, dreams and goals. By demonstrating how they overcame the challenges faced, they demonstrated the need and the genuine possibility for change in my country.
by José Sarmento Matos
Human, Born in the Region Named Czech
Twenty years ago I only photographed black statues in the snow; in Prague, in Budapest amongst the last moments of the Cold War era where I drank absinthe in bars with strange, young men reinventing Vincent Van Gogh’s artistic lifestyle. I guess I’m telling you this now because that’s how I measure where we are in recent history. Then, jazz was the tradition of the underground; tweeds and pipes were the costume, packed with young Sherlock rebels. Alongside this was a new rave culture running long into the night in the old communist industrial zones.
Two decades later, I have tried to photograph what remains of this defiant bohemian spirit. Some is costume histrionics and retro-mania, but it still has a value in playing out some of the moments that define all Czechs. Young people here dabble in the medieval (I saw a battle club halted after someone took a broad sword in the head) but feel equal delight in 1940’s war-time boogie woogie and its release of pent up desire. If the Czech youth of 2014 were judged not by the fruits of their labours but by the quality of their partying, they would score A+.
I spent some time with a band called Stoned Ape, who personified the indie spirit still here in the Czech Republic. Flagrantly uninterested in the commerce of the business, the band were mainly interested in psychedelic jams that led nowhere and everywhere. Their drummer Marek told me: “I was raised mater-ially spoiled. I am looking for healthy relationships, sustainability and happiness. I’m less defined by nationality the older I grow. I consider myself human, born in the region named Czech. I’m fascinated by our past, but people were so cruel and manipulative during communism, there was so much stress. Me, I wanna run a yoga studio, surf and have adventures! I try to live in the present, but we will get famous with our band and I want a lot of babies with my girlfriend in the mountains.”
Beneath the reserved exteriors I found many of these strong characters to be thinkers. I found studious kids and a general belief in the continued purpose of industry and making things. This genera-tion has better access to global information, a longer life span and many choices to travel and explore. They still realise how lucky they are. Many young people have seen their parents sitting in bars looking sad all their lives. A large proportion of them seem to have decided not to go out like that. When I asked Marek about the divide between old and young, he said. “People have different software in their heads.”
The young here haven’t felt the financial crisis as badly as in other countries. The Czech Republic has maintained a stronger traditional industrial base. They have comparatively low unemployment and rank very highly in tables of education and literacy. Consequently, there are few reactionary fascist move-ments within youth culture, in contrast to many of the former Soviet-controlled countries. Young Czechs play hard but nice. I never really felt threatened, even when I went looking for trouble in post-industrial wastelands. Maybe the tradition of the humanist ethic is still playing out.
by Robin Maddock
Brave New World
Only ten years ago, this project could have been about me. When I started photographing young Poland, I was convinced that it would remind me of episodes of the past; that I would actually be taking photos of myself in a different skin.
However, I quickly understood that my youth was nothing like the life of contemporary twenty-year-olds. Recent publicity around far-right demonstrations in Poland notwithstanding, the vast majority of young Poles today mature faster and are more tolerant than my generation. They shun conflict, instead seeking out positive and constructive energy.
You can recognise an older Pole in any part of the world. The faces of the Communist generation express inherent pessimism and fear of the unknown. Today’s young people already know what they want from life in their teens. They are not afraid of the world, they believe in themselves, experimenting with different life scenarios without regret.
The term “Polish youth” has become purely geographical, because the generation we encounter in these pictures, travels, takes advantage of all educational and financial possibilities, is open to everything new and foreign, desires change, and starts work a lot sooner than my peers or I did. When I was studying, my parents supported me and I didn’t even consider getting a job. This was the norm. You studied hard to prepare for a good career, and from then onwards you lived to work. This generation works to live; if they can’t find a job they love, they invent one.
During the course of this project, I observed young people without any inhibitions. They were ambitious and assertive, with brave plans for their lives. Young people who would find themselves equally and as naturally at home in Paris, Berlin or London. They keep up with western trends, love fashion but break dress codes, and love second-hand clothes and young Polish designers. I envy their self-reliance, their brave plans for life, for businesses, their nose for trends. I envy their freedom from stereotypes, prejudice, national traumas. When I look at them I see conquerors.
In my time, someone who wanted to stand out became a punk, metal or Depeche Mode fan. Our subcultures proposed ready made constructs for a person’s identity; behaviour, tastes, looks and outlook all bundled together into an easy package. It is still possible to meet people who fit into these categories, but you no longer see them on a daily basis. They have been superseded by a braver generation. This new self-confidence is especially evident in the big cities. Warsaw, which is changing rapidly now, gives off a sense of freedom. It is the gateway to a world known to the rest of Poland only through TV shows, video clips and series.
Today‘s young people don’t feel the need to be guided by their parents’ experience, values or beliefs. Previously, Catholic and conservative families raised religious patriots. Today, children of the same families will be citizens of the world, who know their rights and feel no reticence. Once they leave their home towns (and almost every young person, sooner or later, moves to the city or abroad) they treat religion as useless, old-fashioned and often troublesome.
Religion and faith are usually connected to small societies, and the signs of deep Catholicism are easier to find in the Polish countryside than in the cities. In the country, you can still meet young people guided by the traditions handed down from their grandparents and parents; young people who are devoted to the only things that matter: the family, knowledge, and secure employment.
It is difficult to judge who has chosen better, but working on Sea Change has convinced me of how blissful it can be to leave everything that is safe and known, if only to put things into perspective and realise that there are many paths. It is the right of the young, exercised every day by the heroes of this story.
by Maciek Nabrdalik
If nothing else works, work with fish
These photographs were taken in Iceland between 2012 and 2014, during three separate visits. In other words, my work began around five years after Iceland’s entire economic system failed. In 2008 the country became a symbol of the global financial crisis, resulting in political turmoil and widespread protests.
Many young Icelandic people were left with no choices. They either had to move abroad to find a job, or go back to working in the traditional industries. Iceland had always been one of the best countries in the world, with a well-functioning welfare system, but over the course of a few months, the dream was shattered.
“I hate it here, but I will never move.” Ingvi, 19. I believe that the Icelandic people are in fact one of the toughest people in the world, and I wish I was one of them. There is something special about island dwellers, even more so when they live on top of a volcano. It has something to do with living in a place where Mother Nature is unpredictable and even the ground they walk upon is in constant flux. My mother is Icelandic. She moved to Norway when she was a child. If my grandparents had stayed, I would have been Icelandic and not Norwegian. Sometimes I wish they had.
“We stop to pick up people on the highway, even when they are not hitchhiking.” Sigurdur, 22.
Approximately 300,000 people live in Iceland; about the same as in the district of Wakefield in the
UK or Sochi in Russia. It is also the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Icelandic youth, how-ever, are extremely proud to be Icelandic.
For a few heady years, Iceland’s main export consisted of trading finance. Housing prices soared, as did spending on luxury items. The bankers and their entourage of eager politicians became the New Vikings. But soon, things turned for the worse. For almost a year, Iceland was on the brink of bankruptcy. Only by refusing to pay back the astronomical inter-national debt could Iceland’s parliament start the long and winding road to recovery.
“It’s beautiful here; it is the most beautiful place in the world. We can travel as much as we want to far-away places, but here we feel safe.” Fannar, 21.
Still, people always need to eat and therefore the smaller communities like Ìsafjordur never felt the full effect of the financial crisis in the same way as the capital. Talking to young people, I still get the impression that earning an income from the fisheries is seen as a last resort. If nothing else works, work with fish.
“It was a good thing that we had a crisis. People started caring about the wrong things. Stuff like watches and cars. We were starting to become self-absorbed.” Toggi, 22.
Many young people say that the crisis is far from over. It has just changed its pace. Many want to explore, be creative and work within the arts. But can you still live the life of your dreams in Iceland? The workers at the fish factories are mostly guest workers from places like Thailand or Poland. Growing up during an economic crisis, young people have difficulties finding their place.
“I had to get a job when my mum lost her job. I enjoy making people laugh. I study drama three times a week and my dream is to become an actress in Denmark or London.” Eirny, 17.
Back in Reykjavik, in December, I visited Family Aid, where they hand out food and clothing to the poor. Everything is still not great. The centre is located in Breiðholt, a district very few tourists get to see. The big, bleak apartment buildings were built during the 1970s following the baby boom of the 1960s. Small, low priced apartments and not much to do. I meet a young couple in the food line. They have their infant child with them.
“We are not children anymore and look forward to the future. Next year I want to study. The ultimate dream is to start an auto repair shop together, but first of all to be a family.” Båra, 21.
Ásgerður Jóna Flosadóttir, chairman and leader of Family Aid, is not that optimistic. She tells me Iceland is a corrupt society; that the social divide is getting wider. She tells me that elderly people are starving at the end of each month; and that young people go bankrupt and cannot go to school because they do not qualify for a student loan.
“We are here because we have no money. We are both unemployed and the money we get only covers the rent. I try to stay positive, but it’s hard.” Gísli, 26.
My journey in Iceland has just begun. Icelanders work harder, party harder and live harder than any-one else I have met. I am certain they will prevail, that they will overcome everything life throws at them. They will write new sagas and explore new frontiers.
by Tommy Ellingsen
Living on the Edge
When I was assigned to work on Sea Change, my first thought was: this is an easy one. However, I quickly realised that most of my friends (the ones that would have been perfect for this story ten years ago) had turned 40 and were way too old. So I had to find a new youth, the generation after mine. Before starting, I tried to think back and remember what was important to me in my youth. What was it? Sports, having fun, the girls, the sex, the dreams, the family – it was all about the youthful exuberance I had at that age.
Spain is known for its unemployment with youth unemployment standing at 55 percent. What else? Bad politics, the siesta, the bullfighters, the mañana syndrome… I am just so tired of these stereotypes of Spain. So instead I went searching for the out-of-the-ordinary youth, the ones that look and talk like the rest of us and live within the same borders, but remain on the edges and the margins. Some had stories of hardship and abandonment; others were full of uncertainty for the future. All of them shared their dreams, aspirations and ambitions.
Young people represent the future of a country - at least that’s a common idea. Well, personally I hope so, because if we have to rely on politicians and their useless policies we may soon perish. Young people tend to not like politics much, but want and are ready to change the world. The youth in Spain these days is less influenced by the Church and tradition, and more by a sense of unity with Europe. In many ways, European youth are as one with each other, much more so than with previous generations.
Sexuality and the diversity of sexuality is an aspect of youth culture that particularly interested me. I met people who were very open-minded and wanted to be part of the project. Young people in Spain want to be seen and to be heard and, as a photographer, I felt I received a very warm welcome. The gist of the message from those I met was: please portray us, and please tell our stories.
Some had dramatic personal stories to tell. I tried to dismiss all my preconceptions, wanting only to take portraits that could reveal that hidden ‘something’. Most of the project was photographed at home in Mallorca. This became another challenge; to see the people and surroundings I have always seen, but this time as a witness. In some ways, I found documenting my own country harder than going away for an assignment. I really had to look at things with a new eye.
It was important to contact the right people before arriving in a particular area, so I worked with an assistant to find some of the stories in Mallorca. I needed the confidence of people in order to be able to spend time with them and to earn their trust. Working in places like Korea or Son Gotleu with cameras is not easy because people there have always been stigmatised by the media. People were approaching me and wanting to talk and be photographed, but they were very wary, and did not want to be stig-matised once more. “We want jobs. We can work, but they don’t allow us,” is something I heard over and over again from the Roma people I met. Many of them have a really hard time trying to overcome the preconceptions and stereotypes harboured against their people. “Please tell the world that we are good people,” many would say.
I was struck by the energy and ambition of people I met. What they are deprived of are the opportunities. Sometimes it can be very hard not to be overwhelmed by the odds. It is perhaps this desperation that would drive some people to jail. When you are inside, you are at least taken care of. You get a bed, a meal, and some security.
When I was portraying all of them I tried to be very careful. I wanted to protect their dignity. Pointing a camera at someone is not something to be taken lightly.
by Pep Bonet
No Right to Complain
When the financial crisis grabbed hold of Europe, Norway was in a league of its own, seemingly un-troubled by the turmoil, with an enormous oil fortune in the bank. What is it like to grow up in a seemingly well-oiled society, with a welfare state that appears to look after the weak, the sick, and those who are stuck?
In my hometown of Stavanger, I met a group of youths mourning the suicide of a young girl in their group. The bereaved teenagers were still struggling with many of the same difficulties as the girl who had left them, but they had found each other, and brought each other support. The group attracted other young people. One of them later told me, “While they were mourning the loss of their friend, I found new best friends.”
Downtown Stavanger became a refuge from everything that was difficult in the rich city. School, family troubles, unemployment. For some, it came down to the simple feeling of being outsiders. Others told me about bullying, violence, parents who abused drugs. They told me that they were dropping out of school or self-harming. How is it possible that nobody noticed, or that nobody could help them?
Norway still has free, high-quality opportunities for young people who want an education. Start-up mortgages are available for those who move out of home, and the state offers the world’s best-paid parental leave. At the same time, it can be difficult to deal with all these choices alone, without the
support of attentive adults who share their advice. Moving to and from childhood homes, dealing with the child welfare authorities and experiencing upsetting heartbreak, shifts teenagers’ focus away both from the future, and from the opportunities. Instead, their fundamental need for love and attention are what define their everyday lives. Perhaps it’s much harder to fight such struggles in the richest city in one of the world’s richest countries.
From the oil capital in the west of Norway, I travelled south, east and north. While the fifteen-year-old in the west dreamt about earning good money working on rotation offshore, two sisters up north were fighting plans to drill for oil outside their home town. When the newly elected government put a temporary halt to the battle of the Northern Seas, the sisters were able to get involved in the other causes on their list: Feminism, depopulation, decaying school buildings.
All over my long, thin country, serious import is attached to report cards, Facebook likes and retweets, with employment ads and moving notifica-tions. Norway is moving forward, and the obligation to make the right choice seems so much greater when the opportunities are endless. I heard this from the farmer’s daughter; from the girl who couldn’t read numbers; from the boy with ADHD; from those who grew up a day’s travel from the nearest university: The pressure to “become something” is always present. Show the world that you can do anything. Nobody born in Norway has the right to complain.
And very few do complain. Certainly not the young, Lithuanian single mother who is about to start a new life in Norway after breaking up with her violent ex-husband. “What I have now, is the best I’ll ever have,” she told me. She dreams about studying at the university, and she knows that the dream is within reach. A Norwegian language course is the only thing that separates her from it.
At the same time, Peter from Stavanger has joined the ranks of teenagers who drop out of school after the tenth grade. His life became hard to manage a long, long time ago. He has applied for three hundred jobs in two weeks. His phone is alarmingly quiet.
How are the participants at the Young Liberals’ summer camp going to deal with this? How are they planning to lead their peers into schools, universities and secure employment, when the framework around so many fell apart a long time ago; when simply being a teenager is hard enough to derail so many?
In a time where the conservative right dominates the political climate, the chances are that many of the summer camp attendees will hold important positions in the future. These kids do not seem intimidated by the thought of being in charge. But are there any school drop-outs amongst the white tents, to tell the others about where it all went wrong?
by Marie Von Krogh
Growing up in Paradise
Lying on the peripheries of Europe, so far out that it could almost be in Africa, Malta is a country that has scarcely been photographically documented. The year 2014 marks a decade of Malta’s membership within the European Union, therefore the current Maltese youth are the first generation to grow up with more European influence than those that came before them. This generation has experienced not only more of Europe, but also more globalisation, new technologies and social media, making outward influences more available, and inward influences more indigenous.
Despite our membership of the EU, we are geographically torn between two continents. We have traditionally been a stepping stone for colonisers throughout history, hence the richness of our culture and the medley of sounds that make up the Maltese language. Young people here live their lives under an umbrella of tradition and convention, thrust upon them by a conservative society and the predominance of the Catholic Church. In opposition to this, the surrounding sea, year-long sunshine and a party town called ‘Paceville’ provide Maltese youths with a natural backdrop for revelry and relaxation.
Malta is the most densely populated country in the European Union. With the longest distance on the island a mere 28km, it is no surprise that everyone is so tied together, whether by blood or by word of mouth. This creates, as one interviewee put it, “one big family”. However, in such a small space, tensions can also be more flammable. The divides are instilled in us from birth: Nationalist vs Labour, Italy vs England, Maltese language vs English language; all with a fervour which often sparks rifts within the population. Close communities may be wonderfully nurturing places in which to grow up, but they can also turn out to be stiflingly judgemental.
The family plays an important part in young people’s lives and most people live at home till they are in their late twenties. However, unlike in many other European countries, this delayed transition to independent living is not perceived as a major problem within Maltese culture, and parents appear perfectly happy to accommodate their offspring. With factors such as unemployment and schooling of little import, the greater concern for the youth of Malta has been to establish their own autonomy.
In the series of interviews conducted throughout this project, the most common worry was not “will I have a job or sufficient income to support myself?” but rather, “will I be happy with what I am doing?” It was also notable that young people do not generally plan on living elsewhere in the future, viewing other countries merely as possible holiday venues or places to arrange potential career contacts.
Amidst the ongoing political and religious struggles of recent years, Maltese youths have grown up on a small island with beautiful, natural architecture, a place known locally as Malta Hanina (sweet Malta).
On Malta Hanina they are confronted by the competing forces of modernity and tradition, resulting in ever-shifting values and behaviours. It is a country with low unemployment rates, where divorce is newly legalised and legal same-sex union merely a few months old. The beach is a fifteen-minute drive away and best friends all live within reach. Malta is a place where young people generally don’t leave home until they are married, where there is respect for tradition and religion and where obesity rates, numbers of immigrants, illegal hunting and levels of binge drinking are amongst the highest worldwide.
Although cultural traditions continue to exert a strong hold over some young people’s lives, there
are ever-more contemporary influences at work within the country. The rising levels of female participation in the labour market, for example, are challenging traditional gender roles. There are also, of course, powerful forces from outside. In the age of global-isation, no country is an island – not even Malta.
by Joanna Demarco
It has been quite difficult to grasp the essence of German youth, which encompasses a vast assortment of backgrounds, classes and interests – even without considering the sheer size of the country. During my preparations for Sea Change, I tried various scientific approaches, trying to make sense of how German youth thinks and what it hopes for. None of the studies I read, truly reflected what I encountered during my research. What is the outlook for Germany following the European financial crisis, which hit most of its European neighbours – but not the Germans, right?
At least that’s how the story goes.
In Berlin one night at a Goa party, I took a photo-graph of some graffiti. ‘NICHT FERTIG!’ (Not ready!) was written in pale purple on a wall. The background was off-white with a couple of cracks at the top. The words looked a little like the title of a zombie movie poster. At first sight, I didn’t completely take it in. Every time I looked through the photographs I had taken for this project, this one kept popping up and puzzling me. What exactly is it that makes this image appealing and interesting?
Looking at it again with a better overview, the scales fell from my eyes: these two words are what best describe German youth: not ready for adult life, in a limbo between childhood and adulthood. Caught in an extended transition period, coming of age version 2.0; only possible because there is nothing much to fear.
Shored up by a still functioning net of social benefits, nobody in Germany is living with the threat of starvation – a reason for some to seek a more ascetic lifestyle. Like the punks on the street and alter-native youth living in trailer parks I visited, most of them are living this way out of personal choice.
“We are Germany’s lower class!” a kid on the street in Hamburg told me, slight pride in her voice. Escaping personal struggles in his small town in Brandenburg, Florian left home voluntarily and went to work with a small family circus. For Neno the choice was simple; “A basic secondary school degree is enough! I only want to work a couple of days a month anyways.”
Quitting school and moving out of their parents’ home prematurely is for most German kids and teen-agers, not a need but rather a first-world problem. A problem that may well be fuelled by the sheer variety of possibilities for the youngsters. An endless array of options, in education, career and love, can be as overwhelming as it can be inspiring. As a result, major life decisions are postponed further and further. For many, it is too comfortable to float in a limbo between school and working life. With the possibility of doing anything, it is quite tempting to do nothing.
The situation for young adults is still not as bad as in other European countries, where youth unemployment has reached over 50 percent. Indeed, Germany has the highest youth employment rate in Europe. It is the more subtle developments, such as increasing conflict between generations and rising social exclusion, that bear the risk of a lost generation.
The current socio-economic status of youth in Germany spans a paradise of supply and opportunities and fears of the future; it allows the young to pick and choose between productivity or laziness, or between a life of parties or work. Many of the teenagers I met have yet to arrive anywhere distinct. They have yet to make up their minds about the future or even about their current status. Whoever I asked about aspirations or dreams, the response was almost always a variation on the theme of “No idea!”
by Fabian Weiß
The Most Popular Kid in Romania
Youth. What is it? Is it a fluid concept, or a sedentary one? Is it about your age, or how you feel? The idea of ‘youth’ can represent anything really. In a country like Romania, what does this word mean? I set out to discover, asking the nation’s youth. The responses included the following:
“Youth is who I am.”
“I am free so I am young.”
“I don’t want to end university. Then I won’t be young.”
“Youth? It means you know nothing and ask your parents for everything.”
I came to realise that youth is the same anywhere – there is no defining idea behind this notion, it’s just a particular time of life. I also concluded that there was nothing distinguishing about youth in Romania, just as there is nothing distinguishing about youth anywhere else in the world. I wandered the streets of Bucharest, looking and watching, trying to find out what made these Romanian youths Romanian, and what made them young. Watching all the different species of youth pass by – the activists, the athletic kids, the jocks, the nerds, metalheads, bangers, skin-heads, dropouts and geeks.
Every part of the youth spectrum was there in Bucharest. Globalisation had succeeded. I could be anywhere. I’m sure the Romanian kids would have been very satisfied by my observations; because it’s all about belonging, isn’t it? There is an order, and they can locate themselves within that order. The most terrifying thing when you’re young is not to belong, not to be a part of some hierarchy, regardless of what it is.
And so I started drifting back to my high school era when we also had the same groups, the very same definitive fracturing amongst us all. It was in that continuum that I realised what had previously eluded me – youth was about discovery. It was about finding yourself, being open to possibility and not being afraid. Things were ahead, not behind us; we had no experience; so every experience was worth the effort.
As we get older, we settle and accept. It might not be the acceptance we had sought, but at some point, our growth becomes concentrated. We become content with ourselves. I understand my parents now, I even understand my grandparents. I can recognize the people they are and why they choose to do what they do. But when I was young, experiencing everything for the first time? There was no way I would have settled.
This story delves into the global mass of youth culture to show that there really is individuality and a creation of the ‘unique individual’. Perhaps global-isation hasn’t succeeded just yet. What I found was a panoply of young people not quite sure who they are, but all sharing a willingness to try. One young Romanian said to me, “We all just want to be the most popular kid in Romania.” And it’s true, that’s all we ever wanted as young people, to be popular, to belong, to be accepted and to see.
It’s a strange dichotomy: this willingness and urge to belong, to understand just where we fit into the social order, balanced with the need to be an individual. I am the only person like me. I am the only person with these interests. I am glad that my best friend also shares these same interests and desires. It is in this strange little paradox that my project lies.
by Donald Weber
Among the many tragedies the world has witnessed over the last decade is that of a country spectacularly crashing and burning. A country on the edge of bank-ruptcy with an unsustainable national debt rate, a huge budget deficit, rampant tax evasion, massive capital flight and pervasive corruption in virtually all areas of daily life. Add to this the almost daily demonstrations, violent riots and frequent strikes, a government under permanent fire from within the country and abroad – it all sounds like a third world country on the verge of collapse and not a member of the European Union. This is Greece!
Undoubtedly, the crisis is not only economic but also political, institutional and moral. It is a crisis of values and trust. Restoring trust is something that both the political system and society as a whole ought to be concerned about.
Greece’s youth has been hit hard by the economic crisis. An unprecedented level of youth unemployment, emigration and disaffection has earned the current cohort an unenviable label: a lost generation. Scores of young people are disappointed, angry, or, even worse, apathetic. Somewhere in the capital, activist Penelope and her friends struggle to make ends meet. They both feel lost in a world of economic recession and social turbulence. In the meantime, the rest of us talk and argue – but really, who’s prepared to confront Greece’s lost generation? Let’s document their lives at least!
The current youth unemployment rate stands at 65 percent, the highest in Europe; and it has more than tripled since the beginning of the financial crisis. Over half of all young people are unemployed and overeducated; almost a quarter of all under-30s are NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training). During the last elections, held in June 2012, abstention among young voters was estimated at over 60 percent.
The political system and state institutions face a crisis of legitimacy. Democracy only works when we make it work. And some did make use of their right to vote: the 11.5 percent of people aged 18 to 24 who voted for Golden Dawn, a far-right party. Young voters are making their anger and disappointment very clear, expressed most frequently through the protests and clashes in downtown Athens.
The economic downturn has also had a severe impact on the countryside. Young people constitute a blurred entity with undefined needs and preferences. Their experience of economic collapse has been very different across the country. Those with higher levels of education and wealthy backgrounds have generally escaped the worst of the crisis.
It is difficult to avoid the effects of the Greek recession while walking in the streets of Perama. Located 25 km to the west of Athens, the town is facing an unprecedented crisis. Once a buzzing center of the Greek ship repair and shipbuilding industry, it is now experiencing the severe consequences of recession and enforced austerity. Almost 60 percent of the town’s population of 25,000 is jobless, most facing long-term unemployment, and many people rely heavily on charities to get basic food and medical help.
One consequence of the crisis faced by the ‘lost generation’ is a return to the family home. But life has become harder for families in Greece. The Apostolakis family is getting used to a new reality of reduced income, unemployment, spending cuts and insecurity – but at the same time, they are also experiencing a stronger sense of unity, solidarity and hope. Theofilos Apostolakis, 59, a public servant, is the only working member in his family of six, struggling to cover the needs of his wife and four sons with his reduced salary. Stathis, 24, and his brothers Vlassis, 23, and Christos, 20, have all completed their studies but are unable to find work.
Stathis who shares a bedroom with his four brothers sums the situation up. “Things have radically changed in the last years for everyone. There are just no jobs available today. If there is a day’s labour on offer, even if it’s for 20–25 Euros, I’ll take it. I can do anything.”
by Yannis Kontos
Rise early, daughter of the Sun
Wash the white table of the linden tree
In the morn the Sons of God will come
To rotate the golden apple tree
From a traditional Latvian daina
Just two names were written in my notebook when I landed in Riga for the first time. Month after month, my circle of acquaintances grew like the branches of a tree. A friend introducing me to a friend; someone referring me to someone else who could be interest-ing. I was under the guidance of Latvian generosity and good will. I kept trying to find a rougher underbelly, but my path was stubbornly brought back to kind, beautiful, open, curious, generous young people. The snowy country could not have been warmer on the inside, ready to share its dreams, music, nature, trad-itions, beliefs and art.
I asked Anna, a tall girl full of ancient grace, long, blonde, plaited hair, energy of mythic proport-ions, about the spirit of Latvian youth. What made the young boys and girls here different? I could feel it but not formulate it. “All the young people who are looking for money are leaving Latvia to go to London, Paris, Berlin. The ones who stay have a special bond to our country. We are its soul. For us, friendship, nature and a simple life are more important than money.”
Throughout its history, from the invasion of the Teutonic Knights in the thirteenth century right up
until 1990 when the last Soviet garrisons left after 46 years of occupation, Latvia has been repeatedly invaded. Despite regular purges and deportations under both Nazi and Soviet rule, Latvian-speaking youth has remained the repository of a venerable and vivid heritage. In the early twenty-first century, they seem to be experiencing a rebirth of the folk consciousness which has somehow survived the centuries.
There is a trend for traditional Latvian folklore, in particular the dances and dainas – ancestral songs – which date back over a thousand years. Age-old symbols permanently marked on their skin, those young people seemed to be living not a re-enactment heritage experience but something inherent to their identity. As Nate, a young folk expert and activist, explained, “For me, the ancient rituals are a form of communication with my ancestors, but also with the gods. They offer me self-renewal and inspiration. For me It is like going to the Church of Nature.”
The influence of Western European and Ameri-can culture, especially in Riga and Daugavpils, cannot be ignored. Latvia is often described as a bridge between Russia and Europe. But looking at this did not get us anywhere new. For Europeans these are familiar rifts: between the outrageously rich and the dirt-poor, the rural and the urban, the global and the local.
Here, there are more unfamiliar divides to be explored. That between an ethnic Latvian majority and a Russian speaking minority; the street kids of Maskaschka and the partly ruined ghost town of Liepaja. The revolutions have been won, and independence has been established, and now the young population of the grim, harsh rural landscape of Latvia is ever decreasing. Joining the market economy as a perfect new outsider, Latvia has successfully in-tegrated itself into Europe within five years.
But these are just facts. I found something else, something that we may have lost in Western Europe. Fresh, almost unspoiled, the Latvian people give off an antidote to cynicism. I felt moved by them, because they just were, not trying to be. They have kept some-thing that is larger and deeper than consumerism, a song for each season. Throughout my work on Sea Change, as I passed from one shoot of the vast Latvian family to the next, I felt as if I was following a trail of immaterial gold.
by Bénédicte Kurzen
August 2012: The car ferry glided smoothly over a choppy Irish Sea towards Dublin Port. I stood on deck talking about Project Sea Change with some Irish passengers. One of them, laughing, said, “well if you want to photograph young people you’d better work fast, ‘cause at the rate they’re leaving the country there soon won’t be any left.” So, it was clear from the start that emigration would play a large part in any examination of how the youth of Ireland are responding to the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.
The last time I had taken the ferry it was in the opposite direction. I was part of a wave of emigrants who left the economically depressed Ireland of the mid-1980s. When I first arrived in London I stayed with Irish relatives who had moved there in the 1950s – part of an earlier wave of emigrants, many of whom were not made to feel welcome and dreamt of returning to Ireland one day. In an age when travel was slow and expensive, many who went away, particularly those who went to the USA, never returned.
At the International Bar in Wicklow Street, Dublin in 2012, a comedian talking about the demise of the Celtic Tiger joked that affluence didn’t really suit the Irish, that for hundreds of years all we knew was hardship and that, through the financial crisis, we were simply returning to our natural state. Certainly in the 80s no one really knew what an economic boom felt like, we didn’t expect too much, and the only way was up. But for the children of the Celtic Tiger, all they knew was prosperity and optimism. Expectations were high.
Among the young people I photographed there was a real sense of disappointment, of having come late to the party, and of finding drawbridges raised and hatches battened down. Strict quotas on public sector recruitment had been introduced, and the lack of growth in the private sector meant opportunities for employment had become very limited. Blame was focused on politicians rather than bankers. Politicians were supposed to protect the interests of the people; bankers just did what they always have done – what-ever they could get away with. The political classes were generally thought to be self-serving and inept, and there was little hope for change: the youth vote has been decimated by emigration, leaving an older, more conservative population that is unlikely to elect progressive candidates. Young people viewed the fall-ing unemployment figures as merely the result of more of their contemporaries leaving the country.
John, a 20-year-old farmer in Roscommon, went against the grain. “A few years ago people said there was easy money to be made on the building and I was crazy to go farming, but that’s changed now.”
In 2008 Ireland’s construction boom came to a sud-den stop, leaving many unfinished projects across the country, from individual houses to entire housing estates that became known as “ghost estates”. Despite oversupply in parts of the country, finding affordable housing is still a issue for some. According to 19-year-old Nathan, a boxer in Monkstown, Co. Dublin who has a two-year-old child, “The biggest problem is getting a place to live. We’re living with my girlfriend’s mother at the moment as we can’t afford to rent anywhere.”
A secondary school teacher in Galway said that students now put more emphasis on academic achievement as there is no longer easy money to be made in construction. A 17-year-old training at the Bracken Boxing Club, Co. Dublin, said that the sport gave her “focus and drive” whereas many of her classmates felt that with no jobs available to them “there was no point in making an effort in school.” Staying on in further education to ride out the re-cession was a strategy adopted by those who could afford to do so.
When the crisis sparked the latest wave of emigration, big send-off parties were common. By 2012 they had become more sedate affairs. People had grown tired of them – and, as was pointed out to me in Galway,” there aren’t that many people around to go to them”. A Dubliner who moved to the UK to study before the 2008 crisis said that Dublin now feels like a ghost town with some people staying only because they are “trapped”, lacking the resources needed to travel to and sustain themselves in another country while looking for work.
David, a graduate from Galway City, is frustrated by the lack of opportunity but is determined to stay in Ireland because, as he puts it, “someone has to.” He adds “A couple of my friends who went [working abroad] have come back because they just couldn’t hack it. They’re like, ‘this is my home, my friends and family are here and I don’t want to live in some antipodean country with a bunch of fucking strangers’.”
by Declan Browne