Striking Photos Show What Growing Up Really Looks Like

Photographer Danielle Levitt started out by taking street style pictures in New York City — but sometime around the early aughts, she found herself getting interested not just in the clothes but in the people who were wearing them. Specifically, she found herself fascinated by young people, and the diverse and complex subcultures to which they subscribed.

“I was at a period in my life where I wasn’t as young myself anymore, and so I was able to see young people differently,” she says. “I started to think about all these things I didn’t do when I was young: I was never a goth, nor was I ever a jock or a punk — all these classic archetypes in teen culture I was curious about.”

The result was a photographic project that’s lasted more than a decade, documenting hundreds of young people around the United States. The work — which has taken her from giant waterparks in Wisconsin to Colorado renaissance fairs and Los Angeles bike collectives — is holistic, focusing not just on the kids themselves but on their communities and the spaces they live in.

Levitt tells us she often encounters subjects on the street and shoots them there, but then she arranges to spend more time with them in their environment, photographing them as they work, hang with friends, and go out.

“And, at the end of the day, it’s not a voyeuristic process — it’s a process of giving a platform,” she says. “More than anything, I want to give these kids an avenue to speak for themselves and feel proud of themselves. My hope is that you walk away feeling heard.”

Click ahead for a deep dive into Levitt's project.

This story was originally published on September 10, 2015.

Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Phillip, 17, AJ, 18, Joe, 17, and Jazzbone, 17 Los Angeles, California, 2007
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Adam, 21 Los Angeles, California, 2009.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Lewy, 17, and Antigony, 16 Driggs, Idaho, 2014
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Alana, 14 Studio City, California, 2006.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Super Market Clerk, Glendale, California, 2004.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Kevin, 18 Littleton, Colorado, 2006.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Ryan, 17 Repton Boxing Club, London, England, 2003.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Philip,18 Simi Valley, California, 2008.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Wheatley High School Cheerleaders, Houston Texas, 2007.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Benedictine Military School, Savannah, Georgia, 2007.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Kelsey, 21, and Meiko, 20 San Bernardino, California, 2011
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Jacqueline, 18 and Shanone, 21 Santa Barbara, California, 2005.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
St George's School, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2007.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Black Surfers, Venice, California, 2008.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Walker, New York City, New York, 2011.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Motocross, Jensen Beach, Florida, 2005.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Princess Nokia, 21, Mela Murder, 22, Robot Moonjuice, 22, Sef Atins, 21, Jude Liana, 21, and Sam Banks, 22 Harlem, New York, 2012.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Slow Dance, New Brittan, Connecticut, 2003
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Nick, 15 Tampa Florida, 2011
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Minnesota State Fair, St Paul, Minnesota, 2006
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Warp Tour, George, Washington, 2007
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Rachel, 16 Brooklyn, New York, 2011
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
University of California Santa Barbara Waterpolo Team, Santa Barbara, California, 2012.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Animae, Kansas City, Kansas, 2008
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Marcus, 24, and Jamari, 19 The Bronx, New York, 2014
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Coxsackie High School Jr Prom, Coxsackie, New York, 2006.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Josh, 20, and Erin, 19 Quincy, Washington, 2007.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Luigi, 19, Bernard, 20, and Dequan, 20 Baltimore, Maryland, 2015.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Rockabilly Girls, Burbank, California, 2014.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
The MS Terps Pee Wee Football League, Baltimore, Maryland, 2015
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Aquanauts, Walnut Creek, California, 2012
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Brothers of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity in Santa Barbara, California, 2005.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Andrew, 13, in Graham, Washington, 2007.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Surfers in Malibu, California, 2005.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Kevin, 18, and Torrie, 18, in Port Orchard, Washington, 2011.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Slumber Party, Los Angeles, California, 2006
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Walker and Logan, New York City, New York, 2009
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Taigen, 16 Spokane, Washington, 2008
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Mona, 17, and Katie, 16 Stone Mountain, Georgia, 2014
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Latin Punks, Ventura, California, 2008.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Rodeo Queens, Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2007.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Morgan, 14 Lakewood, Colorado, 2006
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Rodeo Queens, Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2007.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Bryan, 17 Los Angeles, California, 2009.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Christopher, 19 and Grover, 20 Los Angeles, California, 2006.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Marching Band, Carmel, San Diego, California, 2006.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Kalahari Water Park, The Dells, Wisconsin, 2007.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
JJ, 18, and Laronji, 17 Prattville, Alabama, 2012.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Sevdia, 14 Jackson, NJ, 2007.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Noah's Ark Waterpark, The Dells, Wisconsin, 2007
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Merchiston Castle School rugby team, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2007.
Photographed by Danielle Levitt
Michael, 15 Plant City, Florida, 2015.