chronicles the experience of being a teen in the United States

text courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum  photos by Betsy Schneider

Above left: Betsy Schneider, Madeleine, Tempe, Arizona, 2011. Photograph. Image Courtesy of Tilt Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ. Above right: Betsy Schneider, Jasper, Phoenix, AZ, 2012. Photograph. Image courtesy of Tilt Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ.

Opening on May 4 in the Norton Family Photography Gallery, Phoenix Art Museum will present To Be Thirteen: Photographs and Videos by Betsy Schneider, a rich and nuanced portrait of a group of Americans whose lives began at the turn of the millennium and who are now coming of age in a tumultuous social and political climate.

This timely exhibition, premiering at a moment in history when teenagers are igniting discourse and commanding the national spotlight with their political activism, showcases photographer Betsy Schneider’s project exploring the experience of being 13 in the United States.

In 2012, the Guggenheim-grant recipient traveled across the country to chronicle the lives of 250 13-year-olds through photography and video, and the resulting exhibition includes approximately 20 large photographic prints, a 60-minute film running continuously and an archive where visitors can view pictures of each of the 13-year-olds, along with some of their statements. The portraits illustrate a heightened tension between the commonalities and differences among the teenagers, demonstrating how distinctly the age of 13 can appear on different people, while highlighting the similarities that every young person experiences as they transition from childhood to adolescence.

Above left: Betsy Schneider, Jack, Sharon, MA, 2012. Photograph. Image courtesy of Tilt Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ. Above right: Betsy Schneider, Hailey, Mesa, AZ, 2012. Photograph. Image courtesy of Tilt Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ.

“We are delighted to present this unique portrait of 13-year-olds across the United States,” said Amada Cruz, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “To Be Thirteen will resonate with so many of our visitors, from children to adults of all ages, reminding us that no matter our differences, we all have shared experiences. We look forward to sharing this poignant portrait of early adolescence with our community.”

Schneider says her inspiration for the project came from her children and her own memories of being 13 years old. “When my daughter started to get close to adolescence, I realized I was kind of terrified of being a parent of a teenager . . . so that started me thinking about how I could make art out of this,” she explained. “Sixth grade and seventh grade were [also] the hardest years of my life. I was awkward and uncomfortable, and I found out through this project that I wasn’t alone.”

Above left: Betsy Schneider, Christopher, Glendale, Arizona, 2012. Photograph. Image courtesy of Tilt Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ. Above right: Betsy Schneider, Angel, Phoenix, AZ, 2012. Photograph. Image courtesy of Tilt Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ.

Schneider was awarded a Guggenheim grant for her project proposal and spent 2012 traveling around the United States to capture 250 portrait subjects in photographs and on film. The resulting work illustrates how differently the age of 13 can appear. Some subjects exude confidence, while others practically shrink from the camera. Some look mature enough to be mistaken for young college students, while others dwell in childlike bodies. Some convey a self-possessed clarity as if motivated for the future, while others appear comfortably ensconced in the current moment. The subjects’ words heighten these disparities and further suggest that the 250 portraits represent 250 distinctly unique people, a group about whom it would be hard to generalize or make assumptions. And yet, Schneider says, “Every kid seemed to feel like they were an outsider. I remember [that] so vividly at that age, where you just realize you’re singular and [your parents] can’t protect you from things anymore. For me, that feeling of rawness and vulnerability and difference is still in there.”

“With this work, Schneider questions the simple dichotomies to which adolescence has often been reduced. The photographs and videos in this exhibition instead embody the intensity, complexity, and beauty of early adolescence, reflecting our current moment in which teenagers are taking on a more publicly visible role in our society,” said Rebecca Senf, chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson and the Museum’s Norton Family Photography curator. “This exhibition asks us to consider not only the experience of early adolescence but also how we as adults retain that experience and how it shapes us for the rest of our lives.”

Above left:  Betsy Schneider, Adele, Tempe, Arizona, 2011. Photograph. Image courtesy of Tilt Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ. Above right:  Betsy Schneider, Destin, Tempe, AZ, 2012. Photograph. Image courtesy of Tilt Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ.

Related Programs

First Friday: The Whole Story, May 4 | 7:30 pm 

The Whole Story at Phoenix Art Museum returns on Friday, May 4, and will feature its first teen storyteller in celebration of the opening of To Be Thirteen. This live show seeks to bring greater depth and breadth to our understanding of the human experience from the Black perspective.

Opening Reception, May 16 | 6:30 pm

An opening celebration of the exhibition will take place in the Norton Gallery, beginning with a short talk by Betsy Schneider and followed by time to view the film, prints, and complete archive

Free Family Art Activity with artist Kari Wehrs, May 13 | Times TBD

Artist Kari Wehrs will collaborate with Museum staff to design a hands-on portraiture experience inspired by Betsy Schneider’s work in the To Be Thirteen exhibition.

Teen Night, May 18 | 6 – 9:30 pm 

For teens, by teens, Teen Night is a celebration of art, creativity, and community. Artist Betsy Schneider will be in attendance, and there will be special To Be Thirteen-themed activities. Free and open to all high school students (ages 14-18).

National Theatre Live*: Peter Pan,  June 13 | 2 pm 

In celebration of the rich, often painful, process of growing up, see a special performance of Peter Pan recorded live at the National Theatre. When Peter Pan, leader of the Lost Boys, loses his shadow, headstrong Wendy helps him to reattach it. In return, she is invited to Neverland, where Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, and the vengeful Captain Hook await. A riot of magic, music, and make-believe ensues. *Please note: National Theatre Live is a simulcast/telecast and not a live performance at the Museum.

To Be Thirteen: Photographs and Videos by Betsy Schneider 

May 4 – October 14

Phoenix Art Museum