Fifteen, a photo essay

June 3rd, 2019

Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me ends with a dream ballet. You may have heard that it ends with a debate. But I am telling you: it ends with a dream ballet. Here’s what happens: after the debate, the lights dim and Heidi and her young debate partner—either Rosdely Ciprian or Thursday Williams—sit on the edge of Rachel Hauck’s diorama box of a set, outside of the walls of portraits of men from the past, and they ask each other questions. Three each. Always ending with Heidi asking, “What do you imagine your life will be like in X number of years?” (the years change, the question remains the same.) Those last minutes of the play are so deeply moving, such an explosion of wanting, and such a strong sensation of feeling your feelings exist outside of your body that it rivals anything Agnes de Mille ever created. It is a dream ballet.

There are three times in What the Constitution Means to Me where Schreck asks us to imagine something different. At the beginning of the play, as her fifteen-year-old self, she posits that the Ninth Amendment was the Founders’ way of imagining a future they did not yet know. Later, no longer fifteen but instead her adult self, she asks us to imagine that the play’s set has gone away and changed into something entirely different. And then, finally, she asks a young woman to imagine—not hope, but imagine—her life in the future. It is a deceptively simple question at the end of an exceedingly sophisticated structural sleight of hand where the play’s protagonist moves from a future imagined by others towards a future imagined by herself—and then one final twist of pulling the past into the future by asking, “What about you?”

I had a friend who used to make a wish every time she looked at a clock and it read 11:11. For a while I did it too, until I realized how often I was just wishing for someone to answer an e-mail or a text; for that first domino to fall in a conversation I was already plotting in my head where if they said that thing, I’d be able to say this thing. It began to strike me as both a pathetic thing to waste a wish on and a pathetic thing to feel the need to wish for in the first place. I used to—and sometimes still do—sit in bed at night and imagine the conversations I would have with people where we would just sit and talk and they would ask me questions and I would be able to say what I actually wanted, instead of what I tended to do in life which was to make a joke or change the subject or just float along on a sea of sterile, beige conversation.

Endings are notoriously difficult. They can seem out of place or somehow tacked on, like the author simply ran out of ideas. But I think there is no other way that Schreck’s play could end. And maybe asking, “What do you imagine your life will be like?” is exactly what the play was driving towards from the very beginning.

I guess what I am trying to say is the ending of What the Constitution Means to Me, where two people sit and ask each other questions is what I imagined, and maybe you did, too.

Inspired by What the Constitution Means to Me, we asked 15 photographers from around the country to photograph teenagers in their communities ranging in age from 13 to 20. Each photographer chose their own subject and submitted work reflective of their point of view. We then asked all the teens, “What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?” — Victoria Myers


Adriana Oribio photographed by Trinidad Oribio 

Adriana Oribio, age 13, photographed in her bedroom in Bellingham, Washington. Photograph by Trinidad Oribio.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“I’ll probably be in school still. Because I’m still pretty young. I hope to get into an art school because I’m mostly interested in art. Maybe doing animation.” – Adriana Oribio, 13. Bellingham, Washington.

Trinidad Oribio is an interdisciplinary artist from the Pacific Northwest whose work examines how personal mythology and identity are embedded in familial structures. Oribio is particularly interested in using large format photography to deviate from the passivity of commercial family portraiture, she says, “My photographs reflect my singular perspective, but I am also interested in how my subject’s gaze meeting the lens can both aid and subvert my attempts to adhere to a particular narrative.” Oribio is graduating in summer 2019 from Central Washington University with a BFA in Studio Art. She has exhibited widely in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Ellensburg, Washington. 


Fabiola Lopez photographed by Rikkí Wright

Fabiola Lopez, age 18, photographed in front of a church by the non-profit where she works in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Photograph by Rikki Wright.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“In 15 years, I’ll be around 33 years old, and by then I’m hoping that I’ll be finished with my college education. I’m going to go into college majoring in business management, and then my minor’s photography. By then, hopefully, I’ll be done with that, and hopefully I’ll be done with paying off most of my student loans. I want to start a business of my own, and I want to use photography either for the business, or just have the business completely centered around photography. I’m not entirely sure yet. And, hopefully by then, I’ll have my own house. One of the things that I’m also hoping to do is I want to open up a non-profit, kind of like the one that I’m already in Not just women, but open to more children in the community. The program that I’m in right now uses photography for girls like me who want to either get into photography as a business, or who just like to use it as a tool for their creativity and for their mental health. I’m not entirely sure how to go about it, but what I want to do is I want to use all types of art, and I want to use it to help the children in the neighborhood, because that’s where I grew up and I want to come back to my community and help them do the same thing that I was able to do.” – Fabiola Lopez, 18. Los Angeles, California.

Rikkí Wright is a Photographer and Artist based in Los Angeles, CA. Her work explores notions of community and sisterhood, especially among women of color, and looks at the way a community can mold or expand our ideas of femininity and masculinity, strength and beauty. Wright enjoys working with brands and people whose purpose is aligned with authenticity and honesty. Whether she is photographing beauty or social injustice, she strives to tell a story that springs from the truth of lived experience.


Jazmin Lee Carver photographed by Denae Shanidiin

Jazmin Lee Carver, age 19, photographed in her mother’s bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photograph by Denae Shanidiin.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“I’m getting married this year, so I’m hoping things will work out pretty well with my future husband. I want to start going to school for research psychology this next year. I don’t know exactly where I’d like to work, but I would like to work with kids and do developmental psychology, that sort of thing. I’d like to own a house as well. I’ll probably still be living in Utah because I like it here. I’d like to have a few kids, too. I don’t have a whole lot of huge plans except for going to school and then starting my career and hopefully saving up for a home. That’s my plan.” – Jazmin Lee Carver, 19. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Denae Shanidiin, a Diné and Korean artist, is born to the Diné (Navajo) Nation. Denae’s work responds to her own identity as an Indigenous artist and as a womxn. Through her work, she strives to educate non-native people in their awareness to current day native issues with an emphasis on missing and murdered Indigenous people and the incredible importance of promoting a listening process to the voices and teachings of First Nation and Indigenous intelligence at large. She works professionally as a photographer, ceramic artist and sign-maker. 


Maria Mejia photographed by Melanie Metz

Maria Mejia, age 13, photographed in her grandmother’s front yard in Mendanles, New Mexico. Photograph by Melanie Metz.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“I imagine I’ll be in college and that I’ll be in California, because I want to study for performing arts. I want to be in a dorm over there. If my life is going good, then maybe sometimes I could come and visit and tell my family to come with me [to California] for a bit and then bring them back.” – Maria Mejia, 13. Mendanles, New Mexico.

Melanie Metz is a freelance photographer who was raised in Florida and is currently based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work focuses on storytelling through an immersive approach to address themes of intimacy, fear, and other micro-level consequences of politics, technology, and climate change amongst minority communities in America. Metz’s work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. She was selected by PDN as one of 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2019. 


Samm Yu photographed by Meanz Chan

Samm Yu, age 16, photographed at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines, Iowa. Photograph by Meanz Chan.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“I see myself, hopefully, being done with school. I really want to go into psychology and eventually become a doctor. And with that I want to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights—medical and healthcare rights. I feel like it’s my duty, growing up and knowing people in that community and loving people in that community, to do what I can. And I think it would be a really great way to bridge my passion for activism with my interests in medicine and science.” – Samm Yu, 16. Des Moines, Iowa.

Meanz Chan (Mints) (陳 明 敏) (She/Her) is a 28-year-old and Chinese American freelance multimedia artist located in Iowa. Her personal work stems from feelings of isolation, nostalgia and identity. She is a photographer, designer (print and digital), illustrator (traditional and digital) and curator (self-proclaimed with the work to back it up). Her passion projects center on the POC, and specifically the WOC gaze. She also likes working to connect creative communities.


Mabel Johnson photographed by Elizabeth Walstrand

Mabel Johnson, age 15, photographed at home in Springfield, Missouri. Photograph by Elizabeth Walstrand.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“It’s hard for me to imagine my life in 15 years because at the moment I’m not too sure what I’m doing in the next 15 minutes. But what I hope to be doing is to have had accomplished a good education, have a job I enjoy, and still be making music and art. I write songs and play banjo, and I like to draw. But especially, above all, I hope to be happy.” – Mabel Johnson, 15. Springfield, Missouri.

Elizabeth Walstrand investigates light, childhood, and coincidence through all formats of photography. She likes to walk around her neighborhood in Springfield, MO, observing and photographing the small details of her environment. She also enjoys street photography when she gets to spend time in Italy. In her free time, she goes outside, swims, and plays violin.


Bonnie Robertson photographed by Ruby Reddecliff

Bonnie Robertson, age 13, photographed in her bedroom in Springfield, Missouri. Photograph by Ruby Reddecliff.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“In 15 years, I want to be a mom and a wife and I want to have a degree in flute performance. And live in Springfield, Missouri.” – Bonnie Robertson, 13. Springfield, Missouri.

Ruby Reddecliff was born and raised in Missouri and currently lives in Springfield, Missouri. She is one of six children and has a large extended family whom she enjoys photographing. She studies Photography at Missouri State University under Gwen Walstrand. Ruby’s work mostly focuses on family and youth and the connection between people and nature. Her work has been published in Findrangers and has been selected for Photospiva and Missouri State Photographic Society’s Juried Show where she placed second overall.


Nitawee Shepherd photographed by Akasha Rabut

Nitawee Shepherd, age 18, photographed in her neighborhood in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photograph by Akasha Rabut.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“When I heard that question, I remembered something I realized recently, which concerns my perception of my ancestors and my distant relatives. When I think about the early people, they’re so potent, and they feel much more potent in my mind than I feel. I used to think that was due to being young, and I haven’t lived a lot yet so I’m not very wise, but I was thinking that maybe those early people have that potency because they have so many children and children and children underneath them, all the way until the end, and maybe we have less of that power, which is both causing and because of the nearness of the end. We have less children after us. I don’t know if that applies to all of humanity or only my people, Indigenous. I’d like to say the former, because I think that Indigenous people are connected to the world in a way that is necessary, but population levels alone suggest that the latter is more likely. When I say the end, I think the end is being brought about by the industrialized societies, which currently dominate the fate of our world, and prioritize a very twisted notion of what progress is, and they prioritize that notion of progress in favor of humanities, who are on this earth to learn from and be stewards of the ecosystem, which is the living world. That living world is a symbiotic goodness, which is inherent to this place and also our nature as human beings, but I think that our good nature has been corrupted in the wake of colonization, a process whose success relies on esteeming things which are fundamentally against the esteemed ecosystemic harmony. The effects of that upon the earth have long since been coming, and I think the worst is coming. I think they’re going to happen very soon. So, as beings of a planet whose functionality depends on that, the consequences of our perversion are not only our burden to carry. So if we don’t heal ourselves of our displacement from the living world, we will see the end of ourselves, the world, both. I think this is a really urgent matter, and our action is necessary, and I will take that action. In 15 years, I can’t say where exactly that will have led me, but I do believe that it will be clear to everybody what our fate is or what is going to happen.” – Nitawee Shepherd, 18. New Orleans, Louisiana.

Akasha Rabut is a photographer and educator based in New Orleans. Her work explores multi-cultural phenomena and tradition rooted in the American South. Akasha is also the founder of Creative Council, a mentoring program for young people in New Orleans pursuing careers in the arts. Akasha’s photographs have appeared in museums and galleries around the world. Anthology Editions will publish a volume of her collected work in early 2020. She holds a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.


Olivia Manno photographed by Sarah Hiatt

Olivia Manno, age 15, photographed at her arts high school in Chicago, Illinois. Photograph by Sarah Hiatt.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“In 15 years, I hope to have a stabilized income and have graduated college and be happy. The two colleges that I really have my eye on right now are UBC and CalArts. I think my dream is to become a popular artist. I really like visual arts, photography and film. I think if I go to UBC then I’ll still be in Canada in 15 and if I go to CalArts, I’ll still be here in the US. Realistically, I see myself as having a normal job that isn’t arts related and doing art on the side. I know my dream is going to be hard to achieve, but I’m working very hard to get to it. “ – Olivia Manno, 15. Chicago, Illinois.

Sarah Hiatt is an artist whose work centers around the uncertainty of adolescence and the inevitably of growing up. Her photo book, In the Midst of Things, will be released June 14th through Spurl Editions. Sarah currently resides in Chicago, where she is madly in love with her roommate’s two cats and probably watching something starring Elisabeth Moss.


Autumn Long photographed by Lauren Woods

Autumn Long, age 18, photographed in her bedroom in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photograph by Lauren Woods.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“I see myself in 15 years being emotionally stable for others around me, as well as myself, and financially stable. I see myself on the billboards in Hollywood [as a model], and I also see myself in magazines like Vanity Fair, Vogue. I see myself in New York. I want to be involved in motivating other models, and giving them an example of what expressive creativity looks like, and just adding to the greatness that’s already been out there. I just want to be a part of it.” – Autumn Long, 18. Charlotte, North Carolina.

Lauren Woods (aka Portrait Mami) is a non-binary analogue photographer based between North Carolina and Hawaii. Their work is characterized by their simplistic storytelling mixed with the art of vulnerability and inclusivity. Their morals of compassion, intimacy and staying raw set the tone for their work and cater to a unique dynamic that is still personable.


Ariana Ghafouri photographed by Rosie Brock

Ariana Ghafouri, age 16, photographed in her backyard in Great Falls, Virginia. Photograph by Rosie Brock.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“When I first heard the question, I was like, sheesh, I don’t know how to answer that. That’s really hard. I realized that the first thing I was thinking of was kind of what’s my job going to be, and then that was dumb. So I guess I just see myself still figuring stuff out, and writing, hopefully. Writing is the goal. Writing plays. When I was younger, I was like, ”When I turn 20 years old, I’m going to go eat lunch at this exact time, and go to this exact school.” But then things changed. I was like, ”Oh, that’s probably not going to happen for me.” I’m just excited to see how things have changed in 15 years. So definitely just still figuring things out and writing.” – Ariana Ghafouri,16. Great Falls, Virginia.

Rosie Brock is a photographer based in Virginia. She holds a BFA in Photography and Video from School of Visual Arts and will soon begin the MFA Studio Art program at the University of Georgia. During 2018 Brock was named as a student winner in the PDN Photo Annual and as a finalist in the Burn Magazine Emerging Photographer Fund. Her work has previously been published in The New York Times, Oxford American, and PDN.


Nicole Paulino photographed by Kamalishe Hiraldo

Nicole Paulino, age 17, photographed in her bedroom in the Bronx, New York. Photograph by Kamalishe Hiraldo.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“I’ll be 32. Hopefully I’ll have kids, a husband, a house, a career. Hopefully I’ll be running my own business—a makeup line.” – Nicole Paulino, 17. Bronx, New York.

Kamalishe is a Dominican-American artist based in New York City. She works in film photography with a focus in bringing the fundamentals of documentary into her fashion and beauty work.


Mayana Nell photographed by Miranda Barnes

Mayana Nell, age 19, photographed in a park by her apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Photograph by Miranda Barnes.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“I’m 19 now, so I will be 34. That’s crazy. I never actually thought about myself as an adult adult. I feel like once I hit that, I’m definitely going to be an adult. What I definitely do know I see myself as is I see myself as spiritually and happily grounded. Because at this time, I’m still figuring out who I am, and working on my identity. I hope in 15 years, I’ll be definitely grounded and know who I am, or who exactly I really want to be. I don’t think I’ll leave New York City. I was born and raised here, so I definitely think I’ll be in New York City in 15 years. And I do think I’ll still be creating art. I don’t know what it’ll transform to be in 15 years, but it’ll still be art. It will be something bigger, better. Because you can only go up from here. So I know in 15 years, I’ll be happy, grounded, still creating art, and probably still in New York City. Those are my four things I can definitely say with no doubt. Everything else may change as life changes.” – Mayana Nell, 19. Brooklyn, New York.

Miranda Barnes (b. 1994, Brooklyn) is a Caribbean-American photographer. She received her B.A. in Humanities and Justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the spring of 2018. A participant of The New York Portfolio Review in 2017, PDN’s 30: New and Emerging Photographers to Watch and Magnum Foundation Fellow of 2019, Barnes has garnered attention to her work, focusing on race, politics and notions surrounding American culture.


Chaya Michaels photographed by Marisa Chafetz

Chaya Michaels, age 16, photographed in their bedroom in Manhattan, New York. Photograph by Marisa Chafetz.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“In 15 years I think I see myself post-transition. I also want to really become a film director at that point. I hope in 15 years I’ll be happy with the way everything’s turned out.” – Chaya Michaels, 16. Manhattan, New York.

Marisa Chafetz is a New York-based artist who works primarily in photography. She received her BFA in photography from Tulane University in 2017. Her work explores the blurred lines between fictional tableaus and traditional documentary photography. She often deals with topics such as American suburbia, and coming of age.


Ava Mayer photographed by Tess Mayer

Ava Mayer, age 20, photographed in front of her mother’s new house in Bovina Center, New York. Photograph by Tess Mayer.

What do you imagine your life will be like in fifteen years?

“In 15 years, I want to be independent. I don’t want to rely on my sister or mom for money. I want to have paid off all my student loans. I want to be making all of my money off of illustration and design and also book writing. It would be cool if I have written one book by then or at least started one. I want my own apartment in a big city, probably New York City but maybe another big city. And I want to have two dogs and a few cats in my apartment, and a car so I could travel around the United States. But I would want to [travel] out of the country, as well. I also want to be involved in other forms of art, like dance. I used to be a ballet dancer, but I’m more interested in contemporary and modern dance, so I’d want to have explored that more because I haven’t done it in a while and I really want to get back into it. And I would also want to be involved in performing arts. I’m not exactly sure in what way, maybe set design, but I’m really interested in that. I also love movies. I would love to make movies. Not necessarily directing, and definitely not animating because that’s not my thing. But I would want to design characters, create stories, maybe stop animation or claymation. In 15 years, I would want to be less anxious because I’ve struggled with a lot of anxiety over the past five years. I hope that healthcare is better with mental illness by then, so I can get a better grasp on that. I would also like to have a garden. I don’t want to be married by then. I want to keep meeting new people and be really close to my friends and family and have that be a priority in my life still. I also don’t want to be set on one thing, like being an illustrator and writer because I have been kind of all over the place, like in ballet and then other things, so I want to be open-minded. Maybe there’s something else that I would be even more passionate about or interested in or equally passionate about and that I don’t really know right now, but in 15 years I will.” – Ava Mayer, 20. Bovina Center, New York.

Tess Mayer is a photographer from upstate New York, currently based in New York City. Her work examines the many complex definitions of family and community. Her clients include The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vice, Interview Magazine, and W Magazine.