Until the Second World War, young people went directly from childhood to adulthood with no messing about in between. After the war though, youth was treasured anew as a reaction to the deaths of so many young people during the conflict, and freedom celebrated. A new subculture took hold, one which refused to follow the traditions of the last generation and rebelled against convention. The “teenager” was born, and they’ve been causing trouble ever since.
The Print Sales Gallery has curated an exhibition of photography dedicated to the teenager featuring the work of some of the most influential post-war artists from Europe and and the US. We Could Be Heroes is led off by the work of Bruce Davidson and his seminal 1959 series Brooklyn Gang, which saw the Magnum photographer embed himself with the neighbourhood’s Jokers gang. Davidson, in his mid-20s at the time, was able to gain the group’s trust and captured the attitude of the time through documenting the members’ rites of passage. During the same period in Britain, the Teddy Boy culture was all the rage and Chris Steele-Perkins takes a look at the movement, and the 1970s revival, in his series The Teds. Among the other superbly evocative work is Ed van der Elsken’s snapshots of ’50s Parisian bohemia, Anders Petersen’s window into the Hamburg bar scene of the late ’70s, and the renowned 1977 collection Punk from Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon. We Could Be Heroes runs from 6 February to 12 April; Print Sales operates as part of The Photographers’ Gallery, London.