Tobias Zielony

Global Youth Culture

A network of brands spans the globe: advertising campaigns by leading consumer goods producers are omnipresent the world over; international stars become vehicles for product promotion, turning brands into status symbols. Young people are particularly susceptible to this kind of marketing. A global youth culture emerges that not only manifests itself in the way young people look or dress, but also in their lifestyle, the attitudes they embody and the behaviour they exhibit, especially among their peers. At the same time, values and structures such as those conveyed by the family, school or church, fade into insignificance.

Tobias Zielony’s photographs show teenagers in public spaces. Here, they are in command, with nobody to tell them what do to; here, they are among their own kind. Regardless of where his pictures are taken – whether in Wales, Marseille or Los Angeles – the subject is the same. “The places have nothing in common, and yet they form the background for very similar events. Everywhere, there are people hanging out on the street.” But every scene has its own distinctive features, every place its peculiarities. Tobias Zielony reveals a fragment of local colour in the monotony of the setting. Taken without flash or tripod, the pictures are inspired by the aesthetics of music videos – and therefore by youth culture. The locations he chooses for his pictures are conurbations and urban peripheries that are invaded by teenagers once night falls: shopping malls, parking lots, filling stations. “Young people occupy their surroundings,” Tobias Zielony says, “but I’m not interested in the fact that they meet at night in a parking lot or filling station, but rather in the way they stand around.”

The public spaces that are the setting for Tobias Zielony’s photos have the appearance of barricaded film locations. The places where the teenagers meet become the stage for their own productions: they feign nonchalance, flaunt their dominance, or display their lack of interest. “The teenagers show off in front of the camera, but I don’t ask them to do so. Posing is part of their everyday life.” Although Tobias Zielony spends a lot of time with the subjects of his photos, he remains an observer. He keeps at a distance and yet manages to gain the teenagers’ trust. When he picks out one of the protagonists with his camera, they often lose their confidence: without the protection of the group, they come across as contemplative and fragile. “I don’t want to make social reportages,” says Tobias Zielony. His photos reveal but they don’t explain; they report, but they don’t interpret. His pictures don’t tell us anything about the teenagers or their environment. “Sometimes they’re just about nothing – and nothing is fascinating, too.”

Biographical information

1973

born in Wuppertal, Germany

1993-2001

studied Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport, UK

2001–2005

studied at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, under Timm Rautert in Leipzig, Germany

lives and works in Berlin, Germany.