Evocative Photos of ’90s Teenagers in Their Bedrooms

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In 1995, artist Adrienne Salinger wanted to depict the authentic lives of young people in ‘90s America — a contrast to the perfect Beverly Hills 90210 types portrayed in the media. She photographed teens in the most intimate space of all: their bedrooms.

“I started it on the West Coast, when I lived there, just out of frustration at the ways teenagers were being depicted,” she recently told Huck Magazine. “Because this was before the internet, this was before computers, and our reliance on television was huge. There weren’t a lot of outlets for people to represent themselves, especially young people.”

The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque photography professor published a book of the photos in 1995 called In My Room: Teenagers In Their Bedrooms. It’s since been cited as the unofficial “bible for set directors in LA.”

The teenage bedroom is sacred territory, and Salinger captures that slice of time when four walls become a vivid symbol of our personal freedom, our self-image, and the memories we make moving into adulthood. We’ve quoted an excerpt from the interviews that accompany each photo in Salinger’s series — moving statements on life, loss, and dreams.

©Adrienne Salinger, Amie D.

“I want to be a fashion designer like Donna Karan. I have very expensive tastes, so I need to figure out a way to get money.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Auto C.

“I don’t get attached to people very easily.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Bob T.

“I’ve been working for Comfort Windows for one week. I like my boss a lot.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Carlos C.

“When I was three I had a normal family — mother, father, dog, sister, cat. Then my mother left, and my parents got divorced. I lived with my dad from the age of five until he died. He was a hemophiliac, and he died of AIDS.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Dena D.

“The day before I was to start my freshman year, my mom killed herself.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Jason C.

“A bunch of people get together and reenact the Middle Ages. We have tournaments, battles, and a war. There are kingdoms. We’re in the east kingdom.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Jeff D.

“I get along with my parents pretty good. My dad usually understands stuff because he’s a social worker, but sometimes he tries to act like a social worker too much and he analyzes me.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Jennifer G.

“I dropped out of school because I couldn’t stand the principal there, and he started making all these rules, like if you get caught holding hands with your boyfriend, you get two days of In-School.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Lepora F.

“The best thing that ever happened to me was when I joined the NAACP. I learned how important Africa is, and that black people played an important part in American history and that it wasn’t just the founding forefathers like we learned in school.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Dana L.

“My mom got cancer last year. She was feeling sick, and she went to the doctor. When I got home I knew something had happened.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Gavin

“I always think to myself, I’m destined to end up in jail or a bum, and that’s because of my past. I’m who I am. I always think there’s no way I can change. I haven’t been too responsible with a lot of things. Sometimes the future seems okay, but sometimes I can’t see any future.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Karl B.

“I never took any drugs or drank or smoked or anything like that. I’ve been a vegetarian for four years.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Larry P.

“I plan to go on a two-year mission when I’m nineteen. You devote your whole time to the church by converting people.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Rick V.

“I listen to hard rock and heavy metal. It tells the truth. There’s a lot of hype about it being evil and satanic, but it’s not. My music tells a lot about the world, about drug and alcohol abuse. It tells about war. It’s not about love or anything. Because that’s not how the world really is. There’s a lot of tension in the world. A lot of boundaries.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Donna D.

“I dropped acid only once.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Fred H.

“I grew up in a small town in Michigan, and there were only five black families. It was a lot easier to find out who was racist in Michigan because there were so many of them and so few of us that they’d be open about it.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Krissy P.

“I went with some friends to the Grateful Dead concert in Albany.”

©Adrienne Salinger, Leslie M.

“My house caught fire two years ago. I was drawing in my room and I heard this big bang.”