Behind the Photo with Bobbi Barbarich

1st Place Award in the “Teenagers” category (Fall 2021). Photo by Bobbi Barbarich (Canada).

What is the story behind your winning photograph?

I’m doing a long term project on teen life called “At Arm’s Length,” documenting the years-long limbo between shedding childhood and testing adulthood. Two of the girls in this photo were my first subjects.

I was hanging out with them one evening when their boyfriends and a friend came over for dinner. We were all in one of their rooms and they were all sitting on the bed–because there is no where else to sit in a teen’s bedroom and there’s no way they were going to hang out with their parents upstairs!

They were both pretty cuddly with their partners, cooing in their own worlds. The girl in the middle was just doing her own thing on the computer. I was standing on a chair in the corner, shooting the scene that there was barely enough room on the bed.

And then this happened.

It was only a second. Immediately after this, mom called them upstairs for dinner.

What specifically drew you to this moment that you captured?

I think can all relate to this image on some level… Making out, and especially in front of people, is a quintessential teen experience. If you didn’t do it, you saw it happen or you thought about it and wanted it to happen, and you probably have or had strong feelings about it.

Whether you look at this from a parent’s perspective, or as an adult reflecting on what your parents did or didn’t allow you as a teen, or as a teen who dreamed about this, or if you were one of the teens in the image, I think we can all relate to what’s happening here.

How did this photo come together for you?

The two girls were openly affectionate with their boyfriends. I was always hoping for and working to get an image where they’d each kiss or hug their boyfriends at the same time in the same room.

When their boyfriends came over, they had no where to go but their room because they certainly didn’t want to hang out with their parents while they waited for dinner. And the only furniture in a teen’s room is a bed, so they all had to sit there.

I’m pretty casual with my teens, I go to lots of places with them and they accept me being around them. That evening, I just stood in the corner, trying to make an image to convey they closeness they had, the environment.

And then this happened.

What meaning does this photo hold for you and for the subjects in the photo?

First loves are intoxicating.

Attraction and the undeniable desire to touch the person you’re attracted to… it’s unique to being a teenager. We’ll never experience those situations, complete with new hormones and new sensations–ever again.

What do you want the viewer to learn or come away with?

I want the viewer to recall what this time of their life was like. As a parent or as a teen, as someone who remembers what it was like to feel all these feelings. To reflect on those feelings with curiosity.

How is photography important to you?

Photography gives me an opportunity to feel. I process my emotions through photographs, especially big feelings that I need to digest. And so I’m really drawn to emotion.

Photographs give us the opportunity to objectively see emotion. Photos allow us to reflect on our emotions at different stages of our lives, and allow us to see a moment for what it was.

View more of Bobbi’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram @barbarichphoto

The Documentary Family Awards is an international competition in search of the insightful and meaningful ways that documentary photographers explore the interpretation of family.