Response to High School by Jona Frank

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By Zoë Gleitsman

Jona Frank’s book High School is a very thorough collection of beautiful color film photographs which encompasses all different sides of the classic suburban teenager. The typical American high school is usually thought of in terms of social group and standing: the geeks, the athletes, the freaks, the cheerleaders etc. Frank effectively shows members of every group one could possibly think of that is typically used to divide and classify kids of that age. The interesting thing about the way Frank shot these portraits, however, was how she managed to show the innate similarities among every kid in this age group, no matter their group or social standing. Each subject is shot in the same exact way. Frank uses a traditional portraiture approach, capturing each subject within a vertical frame, centering the subject, and making sure to include their whole body down to their knees. This is how almost every student is photographed, although some images include the subject’s feet. Because all the kids photographed are viewed from the same angle and from approximately the same distance, it is easier for the viewer to identify the very specific similarities among all the teenagers photographed.

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Each subject has an obvious individual idea of how they want to be viewed by the world. In my experience of being a teenager, almost all kids my age like wearing their personalities. One clear example of this is shown by the photograph of the young girl wearing a shirt saying “BOYS ARE GREAT: EVERY GIRL SHOULD OWN ONE.” Because this is a very unique slogan for a t-shirt, it would make sense that every other aspect of the girl’s appearance is in someway unique and different, down to the pentagram necklace and the moon on her cheek. Even though every aspect of this look is very individual and different, the girl still seems to be seeking to fit into a certain mold. This want, or almost need, to fit in and be a part of a certain group is shown by every student Frank photographed. It’s very powerful that she managed to show this similarity through photographing kids whose appearances vary drastically.

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This type of teenager and high school environment is familiar to almost all American teenagers. I was never exposed to the typical suburban high school experience, as I attended high school at a small, alternative, public high school in lower Manhattan. I think this is why this book was so intriguing to me. The kids shown in this book fit into their molds and social groups a lot more than the kids I’m surrounded by. I think this is because suburban high schools tend to contain more of a strict hierarchy with more definite differences between social group. Even so, there’s still that need and want to at the same time fit in and be an individual that’s within every high school age kid.

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