For photographer Andrea Stern, kids’ play isn’t just fun and games. Assembly is a series of images of children, in groups or alone, participating in an organized activity. The success of these large-format images comes from Stern’s earnest approach; she knows that playing a trumpet, fencing, dancing, or riding aren’t just simple pleasures for these kids—they’re a calling.
For Stern, play is almost spiritual. “If you look at religion and ritual, you dress differently and have a different set of rules,” she says.
While observing her son become a person with his own needs and desires, Stern was intrigued by the idea of “how we become who we are at a very young age.” Realizing how little influence she had on his choices, she sought out other children who were pursuing their interests and photographed them during group activities.
Her project started with a group of Chinese dancers she ran into at Central Park, and then with another chance encounter on a subway that led her to an all boy’s boarding school in Midtown Manhattan, and to many more spaces where children gather.
There’s a tension to finding individuals to photograph within a group setting. Stern seeks to capture this tension of individuation in her young riders, fencers, and dancers. It’s palpable in the images of their dedicated training and practice.
“They’re doing something far more important than being photographed by me,” she says. “They have performances to master.”
—Glenna Gordon for Guernica
Andrea Stern is a New York City-based photographer whose work probes the contours of identity through investigating her relationship to her environment. Her work is in the permanent collections of The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The New Orleans Museum of Art, The Telfair Museum of Art, The Addison Gallery of American Art, and numerous private collections. Her photographs have been widely exhibited in the United States, the Netherlands, Switzerland, England, and France. She has a degree from Brown University and studied at the International Center of Photography, where she has also taught. Stern released Inheritance, a monograph with The Monacelli Press in 2007, and her subsequent books include The Wrong Roadtrip (2012) and Assembly, forthcoming this fall.
She will be signing copies of ASSEMBLY at the NY Art Book Fair on September 21.