This Photographer Documented 4 Best Friends In The Bronx For 2 Years

Editor's note: This story was amended on October 9. Certain quotes from the photographer pertaining to the subjects in the photos were removed.
Renell Medrano might have taken your favorite photograph — you just haven’t seen it yet. Once you discover her images of beautifully lit, three-dimensional people, you’ll want them on every wall of your home. You’ll wish you were in them.
Her work is a social documentary of what it means to be young and to have style. And as you’ll quickly see from the sporadic self-portraits on her Instagram, the 25-year-old Bronx native is the perfect poster girl for her aesthetic.
When Renell was a student at Parsons School of Design, her thesis, "Untitled Youth," depicted a group of friends in the Bronx over a two-year period. The stunning, yet gritty, project garnered her a New York Times Blog Award, and the attention of the likes of Bella Hadid, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and A$AP Ferg (all of whom she's photographed).
Ahead, view photos from "Untitled Youth" and read out interview with Renell.
1 of 7
Tell us about "Untitled Youth." Who are the young women you photographed?

"This series is my thesis. I just documented these four best friends who live in the Bronx. I took my time with this project. There wasn’t really much setting up, or hair or makeup; it was just something raw. I felt that, by shooting these girls, I was living through them, because when I was younger, I never really got the chance to go out and have that friendship with girls, because my parents were really strict, so the project is very personal to me."
2 of 7
When did your interest in image and photography begin?

"I started shooting when I was young. My dad got me a point-and-shoot when I was about 15, and ever since then, I’ve been shooting my friends and family. It wasn’t ever a thing… it was just for fun… but then I ended up going to Parsons to study photography. I graduated three years ago."

What was Parsons like?

"Very challenging, actually. I didn’t think I was going to finish the four-year course, but I did. What I learned was how to look at things. Instead of just shooting them, I learned how to look at my subjects and see exactly what I wanted to shoot. Then, I did my thesis and I was awarded the New York Times Blog Award — I didn’t expect that because I really didn’t like the location of my images at the exhibition, and I was like, 'No one’s gonna see them!' But I ended up winning the award. That was cool."
3 of 7
What did you learn about photography growing up in NYC?

"I was raised in the Bronx. It’s where I got the rawness of my images. Growing up in that community, I was looking at people struggling, and I saw beauty in everything."
4 of 7
You’ve photographed the likes of Bella Hadid, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Hailey Baldwin, and you shoot a lot of non-famous subjects, too. What do "normal" women give you in front of the camera that famous ones don’t?

"I don’t compare. There’s not really a difference for me. I don’t shoot anyone just because of who they are. I try to see beauty in everything, and with those [famous] girls, I just see the same stuff I see in everyone else. I try to shoot them naturally."
5 of 7
How long were you photographing these young women?

"I photographed them for two years."
6 of 7
Are you still in touch?

"Yeah, they’re all grown up! One of them is doing this 'Save Uptown' thing; she’s spreading awareness about saving the Bronx."
7 of 7
I read that Diane Arbus is one of your favourite photographers. What is it about her work that you love?

"She wasn’t afraid to shoot who she wanted. She wasn’t afraid to be judged on who her subjects were. That’s exactly how I feel. I don’t want anyone I shoot to feel that they’re different, I just want to embrace them and let them know that their beauty is everything. Every image [of Diane Arbus'] told a story, and that's exactly how I see my work: Even if it’s just one solid photo, it tells a story."

More from Sex & Relationships


R29 Original Series