There are not enough kilometers to measure the distances.
Between a man and a woman exist millions of tears, silence, unmade calls or mistaken embraces, like spaces that are never traveled for fear of finding, in the end, a reason not to return to the starting point. In the case of the girls it is no different: to grow up means walking a path in which one cannot look back, a distance that cannot be retraced.
Every day, the passage of time leaves its marks. A wrinkle appears where there used to be radiant skin; a tooth is lost in a previously magnificent smile, now damaged by the rhythm of a machine designed to mark the trajectory of the sun across the windows. The clock accompanies a person's transformation, and in doing so, something appears in the moment of metamorphosis to remain forever.
The work of Rania Matar is a testimony to that irreversible transition. For the photographer, born and raised in Lebanon, but established in the United States since 1984, the shift between one sociopolitical environment to another with different characteristics meant to reconsider the implications that this has had on her relatives and herself. One day, when she looked at her daughter, she realized that the passage from childhood to adolescence had transformed her into a woman she did not know, and like her, thousands of girls around the world projected a sexual image beyond her age.
To explain this photography series, Rania Matar had a single condition for the girls in her portraits: smiling was prohibited. With that instruction Matar avoided depicting forced scenes or attitudes that would not correspond with the girls —between the ages of eight and twelve years-old— paraded in front of the camera, leaving out any suggestion of fallacy or complacency.
"I let them adopt the pose they wanted, because my goal was to portray them just as they wanted to represent themselves."
Matar’s portraits capture the glow in their gazes, shown without fear or consideration. These girls have started or are about to begin a transitional stage of their lives, regardless of the calendar date, because at times, one’s growth and maturity are demanded by the environment into which they are born. Their attire is not only a reflection of the girls' own wardrobe preferences, but also it shows the decisions that are made for them, whether they like it or not.
The photographs were taken over a span of six years and were captured in different parts of the United States and Lebanon, including a Palestinian refugee camp. In this case, she did not pretend to give a place to the comparisons between each of the girls and their lifestyle, but rather the similarities that they share between themselves —their dreams, aspirations, concerns, and discoveries yet to make.
One of Rania's most revealing findings during the creative process for her series of images was the fact that the girls adopted comfortable postures, on their own terms, in which they alluded to actresses, singers or female pop idols with whom they identified. The girls very naturally display these models of behavior when it came time to portray themselves in whatever manner deemed best to them.
However, in contemplating these images, the personification of the young girls as grown women jumps immediately from the image. The childhood hyper-sexualization, reflected in a form of dress and behavior, shows the existence of a cult of youth that has solidified, day by day, in the unconscious of the girls due to the eroticism presented on television, the young models with less and less clothing, or the continuity of social patterns in which a woman is commodified as a body-object, an image of desire to be cultivated.
“Femininity is very present in these girls. They are conscious to a high degree of the changes that are happening in their bodies, of beauty, of their proximity to womanhood.”
According to Paula Obrador, a psychologist and sexologist in Spain, the eroticization of the girls at an early age can bring about psychological implications like obsessive disorders, depression, or alarming insecurity. For that reason she suggests not intervening with the ages of childhood growth and not stimulating sexuality in girls, when it is more natural to respect growth. Childhood is a stage where learning, playing and having leisure time is much more important than wearing high heels or lipstick.
The portraits of these girls and adolescents play with this contradiction of time. Their gaze is the smile that cannot be drawn on the face at the request of a photographer, but is present in the subtle lighting of the pupils looking into the camera lens, proud of who they are, uncertain of what will come tomorrow.
Such are the visions of Rania Matar and the power of her images — as other photographers have used the magic of the camera to freeze moments, from the struggle against oblivion, to the value of the necessity to make from solitude and death reasons to continue forward, regardless of the circumstances.