Photographer Carine Thévenau has been taking pictures since she was eight years old. Her most recent doco series was motivated by her desire to photograph what really matters. The Young Ones.
How did this shoot come about?
I started to think about the light we shine on people through the camera and how influential the language of photography is. Who we point the camera at really does matter. In response to the bushfire season of 2019–20 and the pandemic, I felt compelled to meet, listen to, speak with and photograph the societal group who will be most affected by these horrific events.
What was your impression of the kids?
I haven’t hung out with teenagers since being one myself, so there was an element of curiosity as to what teenagers are like in 2020. These kids are super-smart, politically aware and articulate individuals. When I was a teenager, I was thinking about boys and parties, but these guys are fighting for the future of humanity. In the ’90s, my older sister was actively involved in Greenpeace as a teen and protested the nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean. I remember her spending hours handwriting letters to politicians. However, living in the Western Australian suburbs in the ’90s did not provide her with a community of like-minded and connected teenagers to form a movement. She was one of the only teenage activists within an adult activist movement.
In 2020, these hyper-connected kids are hosting initiatives such as Strike School, where they invite other teens to log in to their platform and learn the basics of climate science. School Strike 4 Climate and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition have launched Student Climate Leadership, an online program to educate high school students across the nation in leadership, change-making, communication and campaigning skills. This inclusive initiative includes sustainability, equality, biodiversity, conservation and beyond. The climate crisis is not the only subject these teens are discussing, as the recent Black Lives Matter protests have inspired these young climate activists to expand their message of climate action to include fighting to end systemic racism. They are particularly pushing for Australians to educate themselves about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, history and language.
What did you learn from doing this shoot?
While I was working on this project, I delved into the history of teen activism and what had occurred before Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg staged her famous sit-in outside the Swedish parliament in 2018. I learnt that teenage sit-ins, as a catalyst to provoke change, are not a new phenomenon. In the 1960s, four African American teenagers entered a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and sat there, refusing to leave, during a time of racial segregation. Within three days, 300 other passive ‘sitters’ joined them.
By summertime, the sit-ins began to occur in fifty cities across America, and the lunch counters began to desegregate. The Greensboro sit-ins are an example of a peaceful act of a few and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The influence of Greta Thunberg’s actions in Sweden share parallels with the Greensboro sit-in of 1961; however, in 2020, the impact has been supported further by the hyper-connectivity of the information age. Greta is an icon of her generation through the support of many other voices, including the School Strike 4 Climate movement in Australia—and the faces you see in this portrait series.
What do teenagers have to teach us?
Teenagers are our future society. Not allowing their lived experience to influence culture and society, outside of their own demographic, would be a deeply regrettable act. Teenagers still possess the creative inhibitions of childhood and are simultaneously educated.
This provides a rich dynamic for creative problem solving. As adults, we are too scared to be wrong. Children use their imaginations and have significantly less fear of being wrong. I believe this combination creates the perfect storm for creating extremely original ideas that can be applied to large issues.
“I want Generation Z to be leading and making good decisions, unlike our current government, which doesn’t really care about the climate and isn’t thinking about the future.”
– Nabilah Chowdhury
“My vision is for a future in which we’re not facing a climate crisis anymore, where we can live without the constant fear of inaction. Where power comes from renewables and we don’t have to worry about the impact of turning a light on.”
– Ambrose Hayes
“I’ve always liked helping people and making a difference in people’s lives. When I started getting involved in activism, I realised the power and influence I had on others and my community. Within my school community, I saw more people speaking out about social issues and taking action. My family began to have more conversations around these issues, and together we learnt how to make a difference.”
– Kaylah Hill
“I think people often have very individualistic views of the world. They think about what they need but don’t really consider others. That’s why a lot of people tend to be ignorant of issues, and that relates to the climate crisis but also to so many other issues that only affect specific groups. For example, queer people, people of colour, people with disabilities and women. I want to see more empathy and more open-mindedness.”
– Imogen Kuah
“I hope to see climate refugees and people affected by climate change, either mentally or physically, reimbursed and helped. I also hope people start listening to youth. I want to see justice for our First Nations people and more respect and more involvement of the Indigenous people of each country in solving the climate crisis. They have lots of knowledge about the land, how to care for it, and how to become more sustainable.” – Izzy Raj-Seppings
“Activism provides me with a form of anxiety relief. Not just about climate change, but in all areas. It’s very overwhelming to look at the world and see all these injustices and feel powerless. When you feel helpless, it’s so hard to get out of that stress and anxiety, because it is perfectly justified. By getting involved with activism, I don’t feel quite so overwhelmed by all the issues in the world.”
– Jean Hinchliffe
Photography Carine Thévenau
If you liked this article and would like to read more. Try How To Talk To Kids About Climate Change HERE and Tips For Dealing With An Anxious Child HERE
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