Home / PhotographyTeacher’s Candid Photos of His Students Capture Rebellious Youth Culture of the 1970s

Teacher’s Candid Photos of His Students Capture Rebellious Youth Culture of the 1970s

Joseph Szabo candid photography

Bubble Gum Girl, 1984. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

His photographs have graced album covers, inspired Vogue's famed creative director Grace Coddington, and were even a point of reference for Sophia Coppola while directing The Virgin Suicides. Just what is it about photographer Joseph Szabo‘s images of the teenage experience that strike such a chord?

The acclaimed photographer, whose work is part of the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA, worked for over 25 years as a teacher at Malverne High School on Long Island. It was here, starting in 1972, that he turned his camera on his students, documenting these pivotal years. Szabo, who had studied photography at the Pratt Institute, used his craft as a coping mechanism to bridge the gap between himself and his students.

“The camera helped me to approach and connect with my students both in and out of class,” Szabo writes via email. “As I photographed my students I sensed they liked my attention and it made them feel important. So I became more inclusive of all students in my school and established relationships that resulted in trust and respect that many successful teachers have.”

Szabo's photography is a reflection of the teenage experience. He manages to expertly insert himself into their world, capturing the joy, heartbreak, insecurity, and self-confidence that peppers adolescence. In this way, the work is a timeless, compelling visual diary that transcends the era in which it was shot.

The photographic bond that tied Szabo and his students together has continued throughout the years, with the photographer often hearing from them. “I am constantly in touch with my students. They express their feelings and often say how great it was that I photographed them as teenagers,” Szabo tells us. One student, Lili, wrote, “the purpose of life is to discover your gift…the meaning of life is to give it away…thank you for keeping the memory.”

It's possible to explore more of Szabo's work in his books, Almost Grown and Teenage.

Joseph Szabo photography

Priscilla, 1969. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo Teenagers in the 70s and 80s

Tom on his car, 1977. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo photography

Bad Ass, 1977. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo photography

Irena & Lena, 1975. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo candid photographs

Chris on senior day, 1977. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo candid photographs

Hurt, 1972. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo candid photography

Night Owls, 1971. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo candid photography

Anthony & Terry, 1977. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo photography

Rolling Stones Fans Bandanna, 1978. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo candid photographs

Gary, Jones Beach, 1976. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo photography

Mrs. K. and daughter, 1970. Photo Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

Joseph Szabo: Website

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Joseph Szabo, courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

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