In pictures: young and locked down

How does it feel to grow up during a pandemic? These Kids Today, a new video and photo series from Berlin Decks, deals with just this question by exploring the dreams and fears of 50 teenagers.


What impact has Covid-19 had on young people? While seeking to protect the old and the sick, we have tended to forget the youngsters who have sat isolated at home with no one to speak up for them in society or government. For too long, we have tended to talk about young people rather than with them. Key questions – like how youngsters are coping with stress of the pandemic, what gets them down and what they have missed – go unanswered.

It’s this failure to engage that motivated creative director Anouk Jans, photographer Tereza Mundilová and creative producer Lilien Emily Krammer to create These Kids Today, a film and photo project which asks 50 German teenagers to express how they feel and what kinds of changes the past months have brought. To house the project, the trio chose the former cold storage hall at Berlin Decks where, amidst the industrial surroundings, they built a set.



The idea for the project came by chance. While she was working on a fashion project where teenagers went on camera giving their views, Anouk realized there was a real need to let young people share. "What was intended as an interview format turned into a therapy session," she recalls. Recent studies by organizations like the Bertelsmann Foundation have shown how young people have struggled with mental health problems, isolation and uncertainty since the pandemic. The already acute problem of inequality has only worsened.

Anouk, Tereza and Lilien set out to find teenagers between the ages of 12 and 19 who were willing to share their thoughts on pandemic life. To find interviewees they launched an open call on social media and approached various agencies. "We didn't reject anyone. We accepted everyone who applied," explains Anouk. "We wanted as many young people to have their say as possible so the stories would be diverse."

One memorable youngster was Janik who, like half of his class of 23 pupils, wasn’t able to finish school this year. Not all school children have found digital learning easy: schools find it difficult to adapt to online teaching and don’t always have the funding for the equipment and resources needed. "When we met Janik, we all had goosebumps," says Anouk.

The trio spent a lot of time thinking about how they could capture these emotions on camera. "We wanted to make it easy for the young people," says Anouk. In the end, two sets were created for the photoshoot: a box which set designer Stefanie Grau used to evoke the feeling of isolation and claustrophobia of the past months, and a studio with a wind machine. "Stefanie's box is less than 1.4 meters high and the kids are free to move around in it," Anouk says. "It was interesting to see what poses they did and how they dealt with the confinement."

For the wind machine shoots the youngsters could do whatever they liked. "The idea of air being important has been with us since the beginning of the pandemic," says Tereza. "We wanted to express the idea of needing more air and to visualize the feeling of confinement." The team felt the wind could be a visual symbol of the freedoms people have to fight for, often against opposition, and it made for some lively improvisation on set. "It was fascinating to see how much fun the young people had as they stood in front of the fan and let the wind blow through their hair," says Anouk. Allowing the children to express themselves freely was key. "We gave the young people the opportunity to play with the set. Everyone behaves differently on a set in order to feel comfortable," Anouk says.


Support for the team came from Lara Fritz at STUDIO CNP in Munich who did the video. The teens were asked to make audio recordings: "We sent questions for them to answer with voice messages," Anouk says. "We won't be able to use everything, but a selection will be included in the video." The idea was about making young people more heard. The trio didn’t want to portray the 50 participants as some kind of homogenous ‘Generation Corona’ but to approach all of them individually. "You can't lump them all together: everyone is different, everyone has had their own experience," says Anouk.

Nor did they want to portray the whole group as depressed. "We also had some very positive stories," says Tereza. "We had young people who were pursuing great music projects, who had their lives on track and were starting apprenticeships." That said, hearing from many of the protagonists, the team were struck by how the young people have struggled – something the media and arts have seldom acknowledged. "What unites the youngsters is how they have managed to persevere, to fight their way through," says Tereza.

The trio are pleased to see more projects on this subject springing up and for their part would like to expand These Kids Today. "If we had a year I would love to do it across the whole of Germany and then take it abroad," says Anouk.

Ein Projekt der BEOS