2010 — student winner
Juliette Lynch is a photographer and multimedia journalist. She graduated from Syracuse University with degrees in International Relations and Photojournalism, and is passionate about human rights, social justice, stories and photography. After being honored as an Alexia winner in 2010, she was a Carnegie-Knight fellow, and has recently interned with MediaStorm and The Tampa Bay Times. Juliette is currently based out of Maine and is available for work in the US and abroad.
The conversation at the kitchen island as the girls make cookies skips around from sex and who hooked up with whom, to parties and drinking, parents and divorce, cheating boyfriends, and why so-and-so isn’t a friend anymore. And then the discussion grows somber as the girls discuss their friend’s attempted suicide. On one hand, they sense the significance of such an event, but within several minutes they move on to other topics of importance and, as such, an event becomes part of their everyday challenges.
These six senior high school girls live in the wealthy town of Skaneateles, N.Y., where the population is 99% white and the median income for a family is over $85,000. They have grown up together and are close friends. They are the popular clique in the graduating class and, as one of them said, are “at the top of the food chain.” With wealth, beauty and age working in their favor, no one would suspect a darker culture in which these high school students grapple with issues related to suicide, depression, betrayal and absent parents.
Despite spending my adolescence in this community and graduating from Skaneateles High School almost 6 six years ago, I am surprised by these girls’ experiences. After spending the last five months in the community, in the high school, and in these girls’ homes, a truer and more frightening picture of what it means to grow up today as a girl in a small, affluent American town is slowly revealed. I have witnessed first hand the situations they encounter. As they deal with the significant issues surrounding their families or their social lives, whether it is alcoholism, eating disorders, divorce, rejection, or the typical academic stress, these six friends struggle to find their sense of self-worth and who they are as young women.
I have started shooting the project, and will follow the girls through their senior year and past graduation. This project will show that while these are only a few girls in Skaneateles, their lives point to a wider culture within American society in which teenagers are not given the necessary relational, emotional, and communicative tools to navigate life and its difficult situations. These girls lack the tools because they are often parented by adults who are irresponsible or absent, and surrounded by friends whose dysfunctional behaviors create chaos and uncertainty within their clique. Yet their friends and parents are the defining relationships in their lives.
This project is significant to a deeper cultural understanding of a society that produces children and young adults who are raised without the necessary skills to effectively function as adults and parents. A teenage girl with an absent mother, who sleeps around, will struggle to understand what it means to be a mother when she becomes one herself. A girl coming of age who cannot talk to her parents about sex will struggle to talk to her own children about sexuality. By recognizing and understanding the cultural issues and problems that high school girls face, society can better work at solving the problems and providing teenagers the tools to maturely handle the more complicated future.