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Finding The Beauty In At-Risk Teens

There is a sad, angsty, misunderstood teenager in all of us. Some of us are just better at letting it show.

So no matter how far past your teenage years you may be, Amy Anderson's portraits of at-risk teens in Minnesota may take you back to that time in your life when you wished the world could see you differently.

"I'm trying to show these kids in a way that most people don't see teenagers at all," she said. "So many teenagers feel disconnected and don't see the potential, beauty and value in themselves."

Anderson is an English teacher at Crossroads Alternative High School in Coon Rapids, Minn., a job she got after spending a few years photographing its students in a nearby smoking area. She initially started her portrait series At Risk, With Promise for a photography class in 2007 but continued when she realized the positive impact it was having on the kids.

(The kids are designated "at-risk" when they are admitted to Crossroads High School. In her artist's statement Anderson describes them as having been "unable to be successful in a traditional school setting.")

The portraits are a true collaboration between subject and artist. Anderson asks the teens where they want to be photographed, whether by themselves or with others, and then talks with them about composition, lighting and exposure. But it's her long-term relationships with them that ultimately produce the best results.

"I feel like these portraits took two or three years to make, even though I often [take] only frame of each kid," she said.

Anderson tracks the teens down in the school hallways to give them a print; she says they get incredibly excited. And parents have thanked her as well, saying how wonderful it is to see their at-risk kids in a different light.

"I've seen photography move in a direction where shock and awe is the way we tend to photograph teenagers," she said. "I was surprised by the response to such gentle work."

Anderson recently received a Minnesota state arts grant to expand her project and will soon begin following a group of teens beyond the school environment.

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Coburn Dukehart

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