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.

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