Stunning photos show the dark side of young ambition

Isabel MagowanOne of Isabel Magowan’s photos from ‘Cygnets.’

Photographer Isabel Magowan has been shooting photos of young people for years, but it never occurred to her that she’d have a photo series on her hands.

Someone asked her if she had a name for her photos, and she settled on “Cygnets,” meaning “young swans.”

Like a young swan, her subjects are beautiful and looking to the future. There’s also an undercurrent of complicated emotions running beneath. They’re all trying to be somebody, but there’s something else going on alongside their ambition.

Magowan’s selected photos delve into those emotions and try to represent them as photographs.

Young people are taught ideas about beauty and success. But they also have their own ideas about beauty and success that can conflict with what they're taught, Magowan said.

They're all young people trying to be someone. But they're also trying to be someone they're not.

'Just because a space suggests something, and just because a person looks a certain way, doesn't mean that we're naturally fulfilled.'

Her photos also have something to say about how we look and what we own.

'The truth is, we put a value on having things, but sometimes it's just empty and meaningless,' she said. 'It's all an attempt to convey a fixture of being ok.'

Her photos show, underneath it all, just how complicated it feels to come of age in the world.

The subjects looked weighed down with expectations. With those expectations, they lose their innocence.

She poses her subjects in 'spaces with wallpaper, colours, and strange knickknacks or tchotchkes,' because they offer a background and context for each subject.

The people tell a story with their faces and bodies, but also with the space around them.

'These people are normal people,' Magowan said. 'They don't live in fancy shmancy homes.'

Magowan took hundreds of pictures for each shoot. She culled the ones that represented what she wanted to say.

Half the time, she doesn't know exactly what she'll get. She just has a rough idea based on pictures she's seen of a subject's home.

'I might not be picking always the most classically beautiful picture,' Magowan said. 'Or I might be overlooking the most classically beautiful picture.'

She's trying to show a common ground 'where we all feel sort of alone.'

'If you're someone who has a deep sadness in you, you're always trying to figure out why, and you're always trying to make sense of it,' she said.

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