Photo professor receives Guggenheim Fellowship

Betsy Schneider has courted controversy in the past, but isn’t sure, to be honest, what the reaction to her newest project will be.

Still, with cash from a Guggenheim Fellowship in hand, she’s ready.

The project, “Thirteen,” will follow 250 13-year-olds as they go about their lives. Schneider plans to spend a year photographing and briefly interviewing them to learn more about what makes them tick.

Of course, there are some hurdles that need to be jumped.

“Any time you deal with children and challenge taboos, it can be dangerous territory,” Schneider said.

(Photo by Betsy Schneider)

Not that Schneider is a stranger to dangerous territory: The ASU professor fended off criticism early in her career when she photographed her child nude for a series of photographs.

It’s great when art can elicit an “emotional reaction,” Schneider said, but it wasn’t what she was aiming for in that project, and it’s not what she wants for “Thirteen,” either. She doesn’t want to create something “where the shock value is more than the artistic value.

“It’s really hard to turn that attention into something super-positive,” Schneider said.

Still, that doesn’t mean “Thirteen” isn’t pushing boundaries, she said.

“I wouldn’t have gotten the fellowship if I didn’t propose something that promised a more complex discussion,” Schneider said.

Schneider’s daughter, 13-year-old Madeleine, was the original inspiration for the project.

“It was kind of all of a sudden realizing … this whole dynamic and shift. And I just became interested in this age,” Schneider said.

She began asking people what they remembered about being 13, and the answers were mostly negative.

“Almost everyone I talked to thought it was awful,” Schneider said.

In an attempt to dig even deeper into the young psyches, Schneider plans to give a questionnaire, with questions ranging from “Do you play sports?” to the more philosophical “Do you want to grow up?”

Now, beyond giving her financial aid as she pursues the project, Schneider has been lent credibility as a Guggenheim Fellow.

“It will be a huge difference,” Schneider said, between what could be a strange request: photographing children. “Especially, ‘I want to photograph 13-year-olds. I want to photograph kids at your school.’”

Schneider’s colleagues, for their part, aren’t surprised by her endeavor or the attention it’s received.

William Jenkins, Associate Professor in the School of art, said he wasn’t surprised by the scope of the project either, which Schneider plans to begin in December and continue for a year.

“It’s very Betsy,” Jenkins said.

Mark Klett, ASU School of Art Regents Professor could not be reached, but was quick to say he supports Betsy and her project.

Reach the reporter at clecher@asu.edu