For this edition of Fan Mail, Brooklyn based photographer Jennifer Loeber has been selected from a group of worthy submissions. If you would like to be considered, please submit to email@example.com a link to your website with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line. One artist is featured each month—the next one could be you!
For me, Jennifer Loeber’s new body of work – Cruel Story of Youth – nods conceptually to both Jim Goldberg’s iconic Raised by Wolves and Joel Sternfeld’s Sweet Earth – Experimental Utopias in America. Loeber’s pictures document the environs and teenagers of Rowe Camp, an institution tucked away in the mountains of Massachusetts that has hosted summer camps for teens aged 15 to 18 for over eighty years. The stereotypical power play between campers and counselors – a seemingly favored premise for cheesy movies – stands in stark contrast to Rowe Camp, where the program is self-governed by its teenage participants. While both Goldberg and Sternfeld chronicle communities as, more or less, outsiders, Loeber was herself a camper at Rowe years ago, a perspective that sheds an interesting light on both the impetus for this project and the resulting pictures.
Documenting subcultures and fringe societies is nothing new for Loeber, who began exploring these communities during her undergraduate studies. In 2007, her fascination with this subject matter manifest in both a film documentary – Fish Kill Flea – and series of pictures, in which she examines the eccentric culture of a flea-market community based in the Dutchess Mall, a ramshackle shopping center in upstate New York. Her intimate encounter with this unconventional community prompted Loeber to reflect on her time at Rowe Camp. She explains, “[t]he intensity of that communal experience was unmatched by any other in my life, even milestones like dorm living and my first apartment with friends. Being allowed such unparalleled freedoms at an impressionable age, and feeling such a palpable sense of belonging, made an indelible impact.”
Loeber’s status as both alumnus and outsider – and the interplay of these divergent positions – is revealed in these photographs. Many of the pictures document the typical scenes of summer camp; friends lounging, various projects in progress and memorable sites. These images conjure up our own moments of summer adventure and that first glimpse of independence. Those pictures where Loeber’s own longing and identification with her subjects abut her acknowledgement as other resonate most strongly with me. The head-on portrait of a young woman captures the impenetrable, almost defiant gaze characteristic of teenage girls; we are now the recipients of an expression we were once all too familiar with giving ourselves. Her almost furtive picture of a ritualistic gathering, shot through the brush, further demonstrates her status as visitor, reliving experiences and moments that were once her own from afar.
You can stay apprised of Loeber’s projects through her website.