Unsung Hero of 2016: The Photographer Who Shoots The Coolest Teenagers

In Valerie Phillips's portraits, teenage girls and young women get to be both three-dimensional and impossibly cool at the same time. For proof, see her latest book, "Another Girl Another Planet."

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There are so many adults who don't try to have relationships or a dialogue with young people, but I love that it's central to your work. Do you think it's important?

I think it's weird, personally, that people don't have bigger age ranges of friends, because my friends range in age from teenagers to people in their 70s, 80s, whatever. I have a massive age range of friends, and it seems weird to me that that's weird. I think you just relate to people, and it doesn't matter if they're 15 or 75. I'm definitely interested in photographing teenagers and people in their early 20s because there's a less guarded attitude, and therefore, I guess, they're less worried about making mistakes in front of the camera.

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That's interesting that you have such a wide age range of friends. What do you think you're doing differently from most people?

I don't really know. I sometimes just think that if you're an artist, that somehow you kind of wander through the world in this special way, exempt from the rules of what everybody else is doing. I've been like that since I was a little kid. I just do my life the way it works for me, and sometimes I have it pointed out that there are certain things that are unusual or that other people don't do. I never really stop to think about it.

Having spent so much time with teenage girls, what do you think people get wrong about them most often?

I think they're less tribal than people think. People are really hard to categorize. They're just all really weird and unique and interesting and intriguing. I think even within the same peer group, there are so many different things going on with different kids or different young adults. You just need to stop and get to know those people on a one-on-one basis, which is really why I like photographing individual girls rather than groups of people.

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The artist Arvida Byström is a frequent collaborator of yours and she wrote the introduction to your book and mentioned watching your online life grow after you two met. Did she inspire you in that way?

She's the first artist who made work online that really resonated with me the way a zine or a book or a painting would. It was really interesting to me. I thought she seamlessly bridged the gap between being able to be a three-dimensional artist, being able to put something in a gallery, but also having something curated on Tumblr and Instagram.

I do find her digital work inspiring. It still, for me, definitely takes a major backseat to putting out books and zines and things on paper, which I just love and I will always love. But she definitely helped me get started and see the way to do that on my terms.

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We write about that a lot at Sweet—finding ways to create your digital life on your own terms. I think for a really long time people were just at the mercy of whatever platform they were using and not thinking about how it could work for them.

People are also, a lot of times, at the mercy at whatever is zeitgeist-y and trendy. I know it's like that in real life, in fashion, and whatever else, but especially online because people have so much access to everything. We can't help but be bombarded with the same kind of categories of things all the time. For me, when I make work, if I'm spending a year making a book, I hardly ever look at anything. I don't really look at that much photography. I don't really go to a lot of galleries. I don't because it takes up brain space for making my own stuff.

And Now: Some of Valerie Phillips's Photographs From "Another Girl Another Planet"

No. 1: Arvida

One day I decided to shoot my entire collection of Stussy clothes on Arvida for my Instagram. We got together in the studio space where she lived and worked, in an old Victorian candy factory in London. The first thing I learned about her was she was obsessed with cats.

No. 2: Amber

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Amber—a fierce and amazing kid from Kentucky who scared all the boys on the shoot on a hot summer's day in suburban Essex.

No. 3: Monika

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Somehow all my favorite girls look like cats. We spent the day in Coney Island, not far from where Monika lived. She was my first book girl (I Want To Be An Astronaut) and completely changed my life. This was shot for Muteen, a French teen magazine I loved so much—now sadly defunct. Check out back issues if you can find them!

No. 4: Felix

I rescued this shirt from my sister's goodwill giveaway pile. My fave piece of clothing ever. Modeled by my friend and neighbor Felix, who just happens to look like my sister Hillary when she was a teenager.

No. 5: Terry-Lee

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Terry-Lee is a model and dancer. I had just cast her for an ad job and fell in love with her, so a few days later I went to her house to take pictures for Another Girl Another Planet. I think her landlady had a bit of a sweet tooth. I had to carve a pathway through all the bags and boxes of candy to make space to shoot. But the snacks were great!

No. 6: Arvida (Part Deux)

Arvida has a knack for making a market stall bootleg Barbie top look so alluring. We shot a zine called this is my driver's license in one freaky summer afternoon when all the flowers in North London were in bloom. The title came from the fact that the printers of a previous zine we made would not print topless images of her until we'd sent proof of her age—21!—so they asked to see her driver's license. We thought it was hilarious.

No. 7: Samira

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One of my favorite bits of styling ever, by the amazing Lara Backmender: the little gold key around Samira's neck. I hate overblown styling, so I love how this picture is just the basics.

I shot it for Nike. I've been obsessed with gumball machines and the little toys inside them forever.

No. 8: Anja

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I was helping creative direct a magazine called Badlands777. I'd wanted to shoot Anja for ages.

The Badlands girls made the jeans that everyone was dying over.

No. 9: Monika

As I said, I seem to be obsessed with girls who look like cats, which is weird, since I like dogs.

Monica's hoop earrings seemed to grow bigger and bigger and bigger every time I met up with her.

"Another Girl Another Planet" by Valerie Phillips (Rizzoli), $35, rizzoliusa.com.

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