Between 1986 and 2003, photographer Mark Steinmetz visited more than twenty summer camps on the east coast, where he captured the youth during the dreamy dog days outside, enjoying the loot of nature.
His images emphasize children at a critical point in their development – the short moment divided between the innocence of childhood and the ominous future of adolescence. For many, it was their first time away from the comfort of home, parents, pets, and television.
“I love that age,” Steinmetz said. “A kind of serious adulthood is developing around the age of 11.” The result of his two decades long endeavor is Summer camp – a 92-page monolith dedicated to the great American tradition with nostalgic images of children swimming and canoeing in the reservoir, playing with catching the flag, singing songs by the campfire and learning about nature.
Mark Steinmetz, photographer from Athens, Georgia, spent two decades living in summer camps on the east coast. This image of three boys under the spell of the latest issue of Mad Magazine is one of his favorites
Steinmetz visited more than 20 different summer camps, he said his photos are meant to tell a story together as a whole of work. “You take the different parts of each camp and just make some kind of ideal camp,” he explained
Steinmetz explained to DailyMail.com that “Summer Camp” serves as a “pre-digital age capsule” where children had time to “let boredom go”
Four girls are covered with shaving foam for summer camp high jump. Steinmetz said to Vice: “… regarding my own affections, I love something very simple where not much happens. I don’t really have words to say what’s’ good ‘about it, but I think it’s moving’
When he discussed why he decided to focus on photographing summer camps, he explained to DailyMail.com: “I just think it’s very suggestive of leisure and something that many people have experienced. It is something very familiar, even if people have not been there yet, they are still aware of how they can be ‘
“It took some effort to get into camps, but it was a bit easier in those days,” Steinmetz explains to DailyMail.com. ‘Everyone used to have an iPhone and they could take their own photos. So I offered to take photos that they could use for PR purposes and I also gave some photography courses to campers’
“The purpose of the camp is to be thrown into such a real environment, where you actually learn to canoe or learn to fish and identify trees and play large group games such as catching the flag, or Dodge Ball, or maybe there is a treasure hunt, you know , but it’s just very different from the virtual world ‘
A group of campers sit by the fireplace to tell stories in the evening
Steinmetz explained that the magic of the summer camp is that children are forced into “real environments where you actually learn canoeing or fish and identify trees and play large group games such as catching the flag, or avoiding a ball or some quests, but it’s just very different from the virtual world ‘
Steinmetz was drawn to the timelessly attractive summer camp for most Americans. When he looked at his photos, he told Huck Magazine: “There is not much difference between them in 1990 or 1965”
This photo of a girl with her sleeping bag walking over a suspension bridge covered with cobwebs is again one of Steinmetz’s favorite images from the collection. Although he admits: “I can never really talk about favorite photos because, to be honest, I don’t really have one, it’s really about them all being together and telling a story.”
“Summer camps are always very beautiful, there is always a dining room, a lake, campfires and wooden huts with screen doors,” Steinmetz explains to Dailymail.com. “All these things can be described very well with photos”
Two young girls look deep in thought while being surrounded by their fellow campers. Steinmetz said: “I find many funny moments in the collection, but there are also some very moving, introspective moments.”
A child yawns while standing on the porch of his cabin. “I was just another person who was part of the camp. Everyone is pretty focused on their activities, they’re pretty intense, whether it’s a candlelight ceremony, or they’re just waiting for their food and they’re hungry. “
“Many of these photos are about the perilous situation of putting a child in a certain situation,” Steinmetz told Huck Magazine. ‘In one photo, these girls, who have been so terrible for each other throughout the summer, break up – and the depth of their love just flows out. It is almost unbearable ‘
“I think children have an inner life,” Steinmetz explained to Vice about the introspective nature of his images. ‘They are full people. But they also learn, they open themselves. They are in a world of rules for adults, and they just try to navigate there. I think they are in a precarious situation ‘