Young stars have always held a certain attraction for the masses. Andy Murray was just nineteen when he first achieved a top-ten ranking from the Association of Tennis Professionals and Theo Walcott was even younger when he was included in the 2006 English World Cup Squad. Britney Spears turned the tender age of eighteen the year she released her debut album …Baby One More Time but Willow Smith really takes the biscuit having released her single Whip My Hair at the age of ten. Now, it seems the next child-star is upon us. He’s a photographer, he’s seventeen and he’s fast becoming an artistic phenomenon. But is this only because he’s young?
Last year Alex Stoddard embarked on a Julie and Julia-esque challenge to shoot and upload one photograph every day for 365 days. Whilst missing his deadline by about thirty photos – the project is only just coming to a close now and he started the project in April last year – each photo in the collection has been uploaded to Flickr by Alex himself along with a few words about the photograph or about how the teenager is feeling.
Whilst the compelling shots themselves are provocative, emotive and often disturbing, Stoddard’s notes serve as a stark reminder that there really is a teenage boy behind the lens of this camera. Underneath the extraordinary picture no. 286, entitled Sanctuary, in which Alex has submerged himself in a fish tank in the woods, he writes ‘it was so unbelievably cold. I don’t care for the edit whatsoever. I just don’t know how to work with these colours’. The critics disagree with Stoddard’s criticism, however, describing his photos as ‘surreal,’ ‘voyeuristic’ and ‘hauntingly beautiful’.
Whereas most photographers embark on years of studying theory before developing their style, Alex remains untainted by the rules of the art world. Before beginning his project the seventeen year old hadn’t ever used a function other than auto on his camera. The collection visibly progresses through the 332 photographs and Stoddard’s style becomes ever more honed and perfected, and somehow he has managed to produce an enormous range of photographs worthy of the Tate – in my humble opinion.
Does the back story to these exceptional photographs make them more compelling? Perhaps Stoddard’s fans convey praise of a rather more patronising nature. Are we just giving Stoddard a gold star for effort? I certainly think this is true of Willow Smith’s questionable ‘talent’ – ten really seems to be too young to be doing anything other than taking direction. But Alex’s photographs seem to show a deeper sense of innate talent. He is both incredibly self-aware and self-critical. He maintains an acute attention to every detail of his composition. As a result the majority of his photographs need no introduction. Alex’s aim is to be able to financially support himself through his art and, if the last 332 photos are anything to go by, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.